Taking Time Out From The Media Glare
The Phuket Gazette.
For much of this year, Thailand has been in the harsh, bright light of the media. Instant images showing all sorts of mayhem have been beamed on TV around the world, posted on news websites, blogs and YouTube, delighting thrill junkies everywhere.
Anyone who has ever checked into a luxury hotel, gone into their spacious bathroom and looked at themselves closely in one of those cosmetic mirrors bordered by blinding lights can vouch that under harsh scrutiny every single flaw and imperfection is magnified into ugly clarity.
While money has been set aside for promotions, advertising and all manner of glitz and glamor to revitalize the ailing tourism sector; there exists serious damage to brand Thailand.
Enter crisis management. Base cases in crisis management range from disasters such as Tiger Woods' illicit affairs unraveling to the well-handled David Letterman very open extortion plot, which he overcame in spite of having affairs with his own staff.
Here in Thailand, the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) storming Chulaongkorn Hospital may have been a turning point for the entire country, if the incident sparked an intense media outcry. But it didn't.
A few months ago, many people in Phuket thought that the island could somehow distance itself from the politically charged area of Bangkok. Tourism could continue to thrive and business would go on as usual. How very wrong the optimists were.
Once the travel warnings were upgraded to include the entire country, the bottom fell out of hotel bookings and on an island that relies on tourism, this is serious business – or lack thereof.
We can always point to the likes of Cebu, in the Philippines, whose patrons worked hard to separate their identity from the post-Marcos turmoil in the late '80s.
Likewise for Bali. When riots broke out in Jakarta and strongman Suharto fell, the island worked hard to put on a brave face to show the world.
Three degrees of separation may work for the Kevin Bacon school of a connected universe, but severing the umbilical cord between tumultuous Bangkok and the peaceful remainder of the Kingdom looks to be an Everest-sized challenge.
Luckily for Phuket, there are several efficient, creative, top-shelf professionals who have been working their mojo in Phuket's hotel and property sectors for years. Bangkok's Mark Arsmden and David Johnson of Delivering Asia Communications have continued to build extensive credentials and kudos, including for their high-profile work with Raimon Land.
While Phuket itself features AC Counsel, led by Alastair Carthew, who honed his skills working with the Star Alliance international airline program. Infinity Communications' Chanut Nawnarong has starred with the Absolute Group and key product and event launches.
Other Phuket notables include former Laguna PR star Natasha Eldred, who recently rolled out the new firm Shine, and long-term player Alasdair Forbes, former Phuket Gazette managing editor and Hong Kong newspaper veteran.
Regional imports have always figured into the mix with Singapore's Lee Sutton, who handled the recent glitzy Andara launch for Allan Zeman, and over in Hong Kong is Susan Field's Impact Asia.
There remains little doubt at the moment that all the promo baht in the world may be better spent being flushed into a bottomless pit, but at the same time setting up a long-term proactive communications plan has never been more relevant to businesses that rely on a steady stream of travelers.
Crises planning is today becoming a near-daily event and, frankly speaking, my heart starts to beat just a little faster on these mornings when I make an early start to the day and download the daily news, be it 'tragic' or 'panic' news, or even on those seemingly less frequent quiet days.
I miss the sound of silence, but for tourism and commerce in Phuket the reality remains that positive PR is looking to play a pivotal role in the days and months ahead.
Those who have been to rehab know they remain odds-on favorites for relapses, and for those who can't afford a permanent suite at a Betty Ford Clinic, perhaps retaining a PR firm may be the next best thing.