April in Thailand: Red-faced PM, Red Shirts and Wet Shirts

April 12, 2009 by | Filed Under: Festivals, Hot Topic, Regional News

It’s Songkran in Thailand, Thai New Year.
The most widely celebrated holiday of the year that sees Thais traveling back to their hometowns.

Businesses close, often for 3 or 4 days (Khiri Travel closes on 13 April, but can still be reached on its emergency numbers) and Thais are going to the temple to make merit and cleanse the Buddha statues with scented water. Afterwards, the scented water makes way for buckets, hoses and water guns and Thais of all ages indulge in a water battle. Sad side effects of so many people moving during this rowdy festival are the many traffic accidents. Drink driving is a serious problem and each year many lives are lost in traffic accidents. Still, Songkran is a happy time in Thailand.

However, to the embarrassment of the Thai government and its Prime Minister Abhisith Vejjajiva, a small band of anti-government protesters wearing Red Shirt, were able to break into the venue of a summit of ASEAN to draw attention to their case. Last week similar small groups of Red Shirts caused heavy traffic jams in Bangkok by blocking a few major intersections.

The Red Shirts are supporters of deposed and fugitive Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The policy of the government to not use violence and let democratic process go its way has clearly backfired.

The protests are a domestic issue and tourists or foreigners are not involved. It is unfortunate that the Red Shirts decided to take on an event as widely covered by international press as the ASEAN summit, especially since it was held in a major tourist venue like Pattaya. It will be difficult in cases to explain tourists that Thailand remains a safe, and great destination.
However, protests are a fact of life in a democratic society. While the government should be praised for its peaceful intentions, it did a poor job providing the needed security to prevent protesters to enter the summit venue. This failure will cost Thailand’s tourism sector dearly.

Khiri Travel – in Thailand for over 20 years – believes is a more pragmatic approach that takes into account that the contribution of the tourism sector to employment in Thailand is more than 10%. The industry will certainly survive.
Here are some arguments why Thailand, despite the colorful protests, remains a great destination:

– To keep the flow going throughout the next 6 months in the wake of the unrest, tourists will certainly enjoy deep discounts offered by hotels, airlines and travel agents. Tour operators should sign up and receive the bulletin with special offers issued on a regular basis by Khiri Travel.

– Thailand has been a democracy since the 1930’s. Its revered monarchy has always played a stabilizing role, especially so under the reign of His Majesty the King Bhumbol Adulyadej. The political divide is very unlikely to affect tourists in their exploration of the Kingdom’s temples, colorful markets, national parks, beaches and mountains.

– Thailand is a great hub for the region’s budding tourist destinations, such as Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Combine the Kingdom’s beaches with the cultural delights of these new destinations. There is huge investment in the tourism sector in Thailand and the region, including brand names as Four Seasons, Aman Resorts, Hyatt, Shangri-la, Outrigger and many other multinational concerns. Thailand has a burgeoning middle-class and a growing democracy and its economy isn’t doing all that bad in this global downturn. Political disputes notwithstanding, it will continue on its path to economic growth.

– As Stanley A. Weiss, of the Business Executives for National Security, a non-partisan organization based in Washington remarked: “During the political drama in Thailand of the last three years, every freedom has been honored and political power has been peacefully transferred. […] But for the Western media intent on interpreting every disagreement between yellow and red as a failure of democracy, one needs to remember that only eight years ago, there was a widespread belief that a presidential election in the US was stolen […].”

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