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DIRECTOR MAGAZINE The State Of Brand Thailand

Category: Tourism, Posted:12 Oct 2010 | 06:00 am

While everyone wants to look into their crystal ball on what exactly lays ahead we are publishing an article which appears in the October issue of Director Magazine that literates a few of the issues as hand, which included a contribution from ourselves –

"Recent troubles in Thailand have caused immeasurable damage to Thailand's already fragile international image. Tourism is one industry to have already felt the effects while investors are likely to think twice about the prospect of investing in a nation which was effectively shut down during the chaotic scenes. Director's Jon Russell canvassed opinions from across Bangkok's diverse business community and beyond for views on how Thailand can bounce back from its latest crisis.
Bill Barnett
C9 Hotelworks Company Limited
It's as if one of those network crime serials launched a version of CSI Thailand. Rolling cameras in a dimly lit room, throw in a dose of blue lights for added surrealism. Technicians in white coats look quizzical and ponder over the autopsy of brand Thailand.
There are more blank stares and the scratching of heads then one would like but you start to get that feeling this is going to be a two part story. It seems inevitable that viewers will be left hanging after the first hour's episode rolls to a close.
Will Thailand ever be the same as two years ago, pre-Thaksin political squabbles, the wearing of so many different coloured t-shirts I've lost track now, and yes, the burning of the mall?
The answer is a resounding no. A resounding yes. And a possible maybe.
All of a sudden I get the feeling that I walked into a bar on the wrong side of town, stunning silence greets me, with perhaps the tinge of possible violence.
Let me perhaps qualify that in 'brandland', to quote Tony Montana in Scarface “the world is your oyster.”
Media gratification, the internet, binge flying, instant noodles and a global domino factory spurred by oil, finance and politics have created a spider web far more complex than little Miss Charlotte could ever imagine. You hear a cough next to you and oops it's someone in Ethiopia, Estonia or Easter Island having a sneeze.
We are closer but yet so far away.The thudding bass drum tweets, SMS messages, breaking news and yes, the empirical wizard of all – Facebook, dull our collective memory.
It's a series of Leaving Las Vegas moments, wait what just happened? Was that a day, a minute or a second ago? I have a hard time remembering who my wife is at times when I come home, often musing if I'm in the right house or even the right life?
In today's brandland or neverland as it were, we forget all too soon and remember not all that often.
The takeaway is brand Thailand is connected to the greater world. It is bashed and bruised more then an over ripe mango. But a visit to the airport, the mall or a hotel anywhere in the Kingdom will see travellers are back.
Be it a volcano, an oil spill or Tiger Woods, our short term memory is only getting shorter.
Where am I again? Ah Thailand, now that's a lovely place to be.
Bill Barnett is managing director of Thailand based hospitality consulting firm C9 Hotelworks and writes the daily industry newline
Daniel W. Giles
Vriens & Partners
The question of how the government can win back the affections of foreign investors is redundant until there is a credible solution to the domestic political turmoil that has dogged the country for the last four years. Investors, above all else, seek stability. Talk of tax incentives and business-friendly government initiatives come second to an assessment of political risk in any due diligence process.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has set out his 'road map' for national reconciliation but many observers, and not just opposition politicians, argue that the behaviour of his government to this point has not matched the conciliatory rhetoric. The Cabinet's decision to extend the draconian State of Emergency (SOE) in eighteen provinces plus metropolitan Bangkok on 6th July, has been almost uniformly ridiculed by influential publications as editorially diverse as the Wall Street Journal and The Economist. Choosing to lift the decree in only three provinces this week will do little to change this view. The government has also been slammed in a weighty report from the widely respected think tank, The International Crisis Group, for its obstinate refusal to involve redshirt leaders in the reconciliation process.
The redshirt movement is nothing if not diverse. Focusing on the machinations of Thaksin and vague “terrorist elements” in explaining Ratchaprasong may be politically popular with the Democrats core supporters but it will not suffice. The demonstrations raised legitimate questions about the fundamental nature of the Thai polity which need to be honestly addressed. Moreover, the recent high-profile arrests of moderate non-Thaksinite redshirts such as Sombat Boonngamanong and Natee Sornwaree have increased the feeling that Thailand is becoming ever more authoritarian.
The Thai economy has been resilient in spite of the protests, buoyed by solid exports and the domestic stimulus package, but certain key sectors such as tourism show a worrying downturn. Most economists agree that Thailand has not grown to its full potential over the last few years and this will continue to be the case while the chance of further violent confrontation remains so high.
If the government wants to secure continued foreign direct investment and not lose out to increasingly competitive regional alternatives – most notably Indonesia – Abhisit must stand up to hardliners on his own benches and take substantive steps towards real reconciliation.
There have been murmurs in the Thai press and across the country's increasingly vibrant social media community that the SOE may be lifted in further provinces imminently. This would be a good start, but for credible and enduring reconciliation the government must also give room to opposition voices.
There remains much fondness for Thailand abroad. The tourists and investors will be quick to return once the country can show that its internal divisions are being healed. Whatever the protestations of government spokesmen, this is not the picture most outsiders see today.
Daniel W. Giles is an Associate at Vriens & Partners, an Asia-focused corporate advisory firm specialising in government relations, public affairs and political risk analysis for, where he advises Fortune 500 companies, NGOs and government clients in their dealings across the ASEAN region.
John Watson
Diethelm Travel Group
Undoubtedly, the image of 'Brand Thailand' has been damaged in the eyes of tourists and the tourism industry globally.
The world is a big place and consumers have plenty of choice.
The government is in a tough spot; they are criticized for whatever they do and whatever they don't. One thing they should not allow is some of their agencies to provide misleading statements and over-optimistic projections about how things are already returning to normal; they are not. Some of the statements and wasteful advertisements of late border on the farcical. The lifting of the emergency decree would be of help to the tourism industry, but this is a matter for government judgment alone.
The tourism industry tends to go back to the old favourite in times of crisis – reducing prices. This helps no-one in the long-term. I could go on at length about the complaints we have received of late from both tourists, operators and hoteliers about each other, but I won't. Suffice to say, tourists are being mismatched with hotels leading to complaints from regular guests, tourists feeling they are being ripped off (low room price/high charges for F&B) and so on. Operators have been slashing rates to a level where I worry about issues like safety, adequate insurance, and customers being pressurized into shopping trips they do not want/cannot afford. Surveys show again and again that added value to products is a better way of stimulating sustainable business than price cuts.
In my view, the tourism business will not rebound quickly. The trade should use this lull wisely. Train staff and educate them in every sense of the word. It is not considered smart or fashionable for anyone to speak out in any possible negative way about Thailand's tourist industry, but I feel the industry should be more honest and accept tourism service quality is no longer as high as it has been in the past.
John Watson is CEO of Diethelm Travel Group, one of the largest in-bound tour operators in the Asia.
Tom Athey
Spark Communications
They say pictures are worth a thousand words and, despite varying opinions on the accuracy of reporting during the protests, there can be little doubt that images of recent events will stay long in the minds of overseas viewers and residents alike.
On the positive side, Thailand has shown surprising resilience over the years in dealing with a succession of potentially damaging situations that have received global media attention; somehow investment continues and tourists continue to visit. And probably the most 'Amazing Thailand' fact is that the turnaround occurs so quickly.
Surprisingly, business has also performed well in certain sectors when looked at in perspective. According to Bank of Thailand figures, when we compare export revenue it shows there has been steady growth over the last five years, with only 2009 proving to be a blip.
These figures, however, don't disguise that fact that Thailand has some major work to do to fend off increased competition within ASEAN and the economic challenges currently facing Europe; both are likely to impact on Thailand's performance. The underlying political issues only serve to magnify the challenges.
So how can Thailand create a positive image once again? There are a number of factors the country has to consider in developing a sustained positive image.
â– Defining goals and objectives is paramount. Is tourism the priority or should more focus be given to investment? Is improving the country's image enough or is more required? Understand what you want to achieve and have a clearly defined strategic focus.
â– Consider the environment and what factors are likely to affect the message. Thailand has some significant issues as the political landscape is particularly unclear, but focusing on how the country differentiates itself from regional competitors is the most important factor.
â– Decide which audiences to reach. Where are future investors and tourists likely to come from? How much demand will be domestic compared to international? Do you want to reach out domestically, regionally or globally? Know who you want to speak to and why.
â– Determine the message as this will have most impact on your audience. Also consider how the message is best delivered. On top of this, timing of message delivery is critical and can be influenced by a number of factors. These factors can either enhance or destroy the messages to the target audience.
â– Measure success. These efforts will take time but government agencies must keep their objectives and expectations realistic, achievable and measurable.
Tom Athey is the managing director of Spark Communications, an independent Bangkok-based public relations company."

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