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An Instagram Moment. Thailand’s Lost Summer

Category: Opinion|Tourism, Posted:16 Aug 2020 | 09:13 am

Beat bard poet Willie Shakespeare once penned the line “now is the winter of our discontent”, but for Thailand all you need to do is cut and paste summer into winter which then segues on to explain the current state of the national angst.

In 2020 Thai’s have not only lost their Songkran, but for the boys and girls of summer, manifested as a rising tide of outbound global travelers, they have been denied title roles in the wide world of Instagram gratification. No chic pics of France, Switzerland, Japan or Australia. Nada, sorry the door to the outside has been closed.

Fear. That’s it. Or more accurately FOMO (fear of missing out) has become a domestic plague of epic proportion. And here is what is interesting for the hotel and travel industry in Thailand is that Thai’s are once again learning to fall in love with their own country. Of course, in this case, the ‘love factor’ has been supercharged by the IG -Instagram mission of post til you drop.

Here in Phuket, speaking to OTA’s one of the most important learnings is the behavior changes of travelers in a Covid-19 world and how preferences are shifting. According to one of the larger booking providers, the top three locations searched for accommodation are Patong, Phuket Town and Koh Yao Yai. Certainly, no surprise with Patong, but the inclusion of the latter two clearly points to the relevance of domestic demand.

Start trolling Instagram or Facebook and look at images of these locations and you find food, panoramic bucket list photo opportunities and photogenic design hotels. Talking to hotels in picture perfect Phang Nga Bay, occupancy is relatively strong, though in no uncertain circumstance is the customer base the same. The disruption is here, and it might be just rolling in on a Rimowa, and weighed down by costume changes and digital accessories including tripods, mini drones and multiple devices.

For hotels in Phuket, the new norm is that summer will soon enough turn to winter. Reality is biting hard, but for now, THE MARKET is now, and for the foreseeable future, domestic travelers. Sadly, the Bangkok crowd’s perception of Phuket remains somewhat negative, with the perception of a wildly expensive destination, unaccommodating service and transportation and ultimately many Thai’s express that they feel unwelcome in Phuket to the extent of nearly feeling they are a stranger in their own country.

What the island now has, is the opportunity to learn and start to change its attitude towards domestic visitors. Over the past few months the mounting noise in social media is rising about expats feeling unwelcome in Thailand, or irate about dual prices.  But, the very same can be said about how Phuket deals with local visitors. Seems everyone in Covid-19 is feeling unwelcome.

Trying to wrap this into a takeaway, I can probably say that despite a highly challenged hotel sector, is that some businesses are finding a way through the valley of the shadow of death (note Biblical reference to say it’s really bad out there). Adjusting customer bases, understanding Thai hotel guests on how and why they travel or what attracts them and at the end of the day, taking the opportunity to reinvent Thainess in Phuket is needed now and into the future. You may return to IG now.

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