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Corporates cancel meetings but leisure holds steady for Thailand so far
Raini Hamdi, Bangkok, October 19, 2016

Corporates have cancelled meetings and events in Thailand but leisure bookings are mostly going ahead, according to industry players interviewed on the impact on tourism of the passing away of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej last Thursday.


While the MICE cancellations were deemed by some as “inevitable”, industry members are now watchful over “possible lost business”, i.e. new bookings that may be postponed or diverted if clients misread a Thailand-in-mourning as ‘Thailand is closed’ or ‘less amazing’, or if they have some concerns about stability in the country, said industry members.


Crowds of mourners at the roadside while the body of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej is taken from Siriraj Hospital to Wat Phra Kaew on October 14, 2016 in Bangkok, Thailand


As it is, corporate companies debate whether or not to hold meetings not because of the 30-day mourning period but because of “the overall mood”.


“They feel that it might not be conducive having a meeting in Thailand at this time as the overall mood isn’t the same as always and the famous ‘Thai Smile’ might be in short supply, which in turn affects delegates and meeting outcome,” said Peter Caprez, cluster general manager of three Marriott hotels in Bangkok and Samui.


For leisure, however, an outpouring of sympathy for local Thais since last Thursday, especially on social media, and immediate factual updates by both public and private sectors on the ground situation, have helped a lot to assure tourists. Industry members interviewed all said this effective communication must continue for, despite efforts, there were still incidences that showed they could never be enough.


David Kevan, director of Chic Locations UK, highlighted how the media in the UK had focused on the one-year mourning period – essentially for the royal family, government offices and, at their discretion, the Thai public – and less on the current one-month period observed by everyone, in which Thailand has a respectful, more sombre tone. “It is important we all get the message across that Thailand is not closed for a year,” he said.


Bill Barnett, managing director of C9 Hotelworks in Phuket, said: “There’s still perception among a number of people that beach-going is not being allowed, which is entirely incorrect.”


Sumate Sudasna, managing director of CDM, also added: “There have been cancellations of corporate meetings due to concerns it might not be appropriate to hold events in this 30-day mourning period. We need to clarify to clients about the government’s announcement of holding celebratory events; it appears now that only state-organised events are encouraged to postpone. Private events in their own confinements are not prohibited.


“My company’s two events in November are proceeding, with just the observation of the mourning atmosphere; no concerns otherwise.”


Laurent Kuenzle, CEO of Asian Trails Group, puts it in perspective for clients as to what the 30-day mourning period entails: “Life goes on pretty much as usual albeit most people are wearing black. Some entertainment areas are closed, but most are opened. Music is tuned down or changed, and no one really minds. You want to see the famous Alcazar Cabaret in Pattaya? All shows are performed except the late evening one. Cruises on the Chao Phraya River? All operating, but the music is tuned down. All tourist attractions with the exception of the Grand Palace are open.


“No one tells you how to dress at the beach, it’s people in bikinis as it always is. All restaurants are opened, shops are opened, alcohol is served everywhere. There will be no full moon party in Koh Phangan this month and there are no major concerts, but cinemas operate as usual, shopping malls see the usual crowds and I could name another hundred venues where nothing has changed.”


DMCs said they would continue to press on with effective communications. Richard Brouwer, CEO of Khiri Travel, said B2B DMCs are not seeing any impact to-date as they are communicating well with their overseas agents. “The impact is difficult to measure as there’s possible lost business, comprising clients who aim to book their travel within the next four to six weeks and may postpone or book a different destination. But we’re hopeful that with clear and ongoing communication that this will not occur.”


Barnett pointed out too that Thailand is on a shoulder month in October and the industry should gear up for the critical Christmas/New Year season by ensuring a good flow of information and “speaking from a single voice”.


As for the longer term impact, it’s too early to tell or, as Thomas Stirnimann, CEO of Hotelplan Group Switzerland, said: “That is open and yet to be seen. All depends on how peaceful the handover is going to happen.”


Thai industry members said they are optimistic all would be well.


Said Sumate: “I think positive, especially when it is about Thailand and the meetings/events industry. I would like to think that Thailand has an even more positive image, having been under an extraordinary rule for 70 years. This opens up a goldmine of attractions from projects initiated and supported by the royal family which will be most suitable opportunities for outreach programmes and activities which corporations tend to plan in their travel programmes.”


Agreeing, Addie Hirunkate, managing director of Destination Asia, said: “In fact this is another great opportunity for Thailand. We could give people from around the world a chance to learn more about Thailand and HM the King’s projects. We should use this chance to promote the royal projects and other royal initiatives that our king had done during his 70 years reign.”

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