[Meanwhile] Revival of tourism in Bangkok

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[Meanwhile] Revival of tourism in Bangkok

AHN CHAK-HEE
The author is the head of the global cooperation team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Bangkok is the biggest tourist destination in Southeast Asia. The world’s largest water fight has returned to downtown Bangkok, where tourism shrank due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Returning after four years, it is a major festival in celebration of Songkran, Thailand’s traditional New Year’s Day and the biggest holiday.

Last week, I watched tens of thousands of Bangkok residents as well as overseas tourists enjoying splashing “blessed water” with water guns and buckets. Ahead of the general elections in May, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, 69, showed up in a Hawaiian shirt and a fluorescent water gun instead of the usual military uniforms.

The number of tourists to Thailand had plunged from 40 million in the pre-pandemic period to 500,000 annually in the last three years. It is only natural that the Thai government welcomes tourists from all over the world during the festival.

Not only the travel industry workers but also large shopping malls and street merchants did not look tired even in the peak heat. The Thai government predicted that about 300,000 overseas tourists would visit Bangkok and Phuket during the five days of the Songkran festival, and during this period, total sales will reach 125 billion baht ($3.6 billion). The number of inbound tourists has already exceeded the target of 6 million for the first quarter.

The overwhelming majority of foreign tourists are by far the Chinese. It was a common scene in central Bangkok during the festival that young Chinese tourists dressed up and had fun, lured by the exciting tourism product of the water splash. Young Chinese people who engaged in water fights during the sizzling day spent money at famous restaurants and rooftop bars at night in Bangkok.

This year’s keyword in China is “long-distance travel,” and they seem to have the psychology to reward themselves for the frustrating time from the suffocating blockades and departure ban.

I visited Sapporo, Hong Kong and Bangkok this year, and they were all crowded with foreign tourists. The number of people wearing masks is also decreasing. Amid such changes, China — a country with the largest number of tourists — has allowed its people to take group tours to 60 countries, and Korea has been excluded. Political conflict may be the main cause, but we better find ways to attract Chinese visitors.

While walking along the streets of Bangkok, I was startled by a water gun splash from behind. When I looked around, I noticed a smiling Thai boy. I smiled and thought, do we have a tourism product that can continue to attract people from the rest of the world? I wonder what the essence of the “Visit Korea” campaign would be after the pandemic.
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