Tourism And Terrorism Become Strange Bedfellows
As bombs were going off in my hometown of Phuket, I was soundly sleeping off a bad case of jet lag on the other side of the world in Los Angeles.
Waking up to the news that explosions had swept across a number of cities and towns across Southern Thailand, my email count mounted with Travel Advisories and well-meaning messages that started off “are you okay?”
To coin a line from the movie Pulp Fiction’s character Marsellus Wallace “I’m pretty fxxxxn’ far from okay” to be honest.
Thailand’s tourism sector throughout a tumultuous decade has learned to understand its sustained success has become the face of the nation. Brand Thailand and tourism have somehow evolved into symbiotic twins.
This time out terrorist’s have understood the same powerful messaging, and the deadly explosions are both an attack on the country as well as its banner industry – tourism.
I am not going to speculate on who is responsible for the terrorism events, it’s well out of my wheelhouse, so will leave this to the government authorities.
But for Phuket hoteliers and those in Hua Hin, Khao Lak and elsewhere in Southern Thailand the message is clear that that industry has experienced a game-changing event.
Ever since the twin bombings in Bali in the early and mid 2000’s, Thai resort hoteliers here have been able to languish in denial and think that it could never happen here. This time it has.
In the aftermath of the bombings, what will likely change in Phuket and other similar destinations is that like Bali, hotels will now put safety and security on the front burner. Barricades will be constructed, perimeters secured and bomb sniffing dogs deployed.
Taking a step backward, the changes are northing the broader world does not understand, from Paris to New York and countless others. Sadly for this who reside in Phuket, this is a coming of age for the realities of the world we live in today. There is no assurance of a safe haven.
Hoteliers on the island now have a strong mandate for the safety of our prized possession tourists, as does the government. But their challenges do not stop there as we look forward towards the coming high season and potential impact on trading. Disruption is certain and pressure on numbers will again hit room rate growth.
Phuket will spring back. It always has and always will. Be it those empty planes during the SARS crisis, the Asian tsunami, a global financial meltdown or the prolonged political events that created global headlines.
Today Phuket is again back on the front page of the international news and it will be the tourism industry that is tasked to again take the lead in the recovery of Brand Thailand’s image.
To sum it up, while I am not okay, I do appreciate that our island has a long history of resilience and can take heart in how Bali has been able to show grace under pressure under similar or even worse circumstances and has continued to prosper.
Phuket will indeed be okay. Taking a moment to reflect perhaps even I am okay and look forward to getting back home and starting the a new journey forward. Despite the many challenges there is no other place in the world I’d rather live.