When King Bhumibol Adulyadej passed away last Thursday, Thailand plunged into a sea of deep sorrow. Out of respect for the bereaved nation, entertainment events were cancelled almost immediately. Raucous activities and music are forbidden during the 30-day mourning period, and tourists have tweeted photos of deserted nightspots at red light districts in places like Soi Cowboy and Pattaya.
However 'Brand Thailand' stands for so much more than what has been toned down over the last week, Patrick Ashe, managing director of Bangkok-based agency Brand New Day, told Campaign Asia-Pacific. “You can feel the sadness in the air, but Thailand is back to business as usual.”
The Grand Palace is re-opening today, popular tourist spots have been operating as usual and the government has allowed nightlife venues to re-open as long as they are discreet, according to Thailand-based travel blogger Richard Barrow.
Several foreign offices issued advisories calling for tourists to behave respectfully during the mourning period. But other than BBC Three’s “Off to Thailand, it won’t be what you expect” video, which was widely slammed by Thais for being misleading advice, reactions have not been negative.
“The tourists have been largely understanding of the current situation in Thailand," Ashe said. "There were some disruptions in the beginning, but reports of the true picture are starting to emerge." Tourism accounts for 10 percent of Thailand’s GDP, and its 'Amazing Thailand' branding is credited with bringing in a record 29.88 million tourists last year.
Yupin Muntzing, CEO of McCann Worldgroup Thailand, said tourists visit Thailand for many reasons, including its food, its culture and the Thai people themselves.
“The wide publicity of our great love of the king will enhance the country’s own branding," Muntzing said. "It highlights our rich culture and the warm nature of the Thai people.”
Preetanjali Kukreja, strategy director at Brand New Day, agreed that tourists seeking an immersive travel experience will be drawn to the portrayal of Thai people coming together in solidarity during this difficult time.
World Travel and Tourism Council president and CEO David Scowsill said Thailand has been an extraordinarily resilient brand in tourism, which has withstood past political turmoil and the Erawan shrine bombing last year.
“It is expected that there will be a lull during this period, but the marketing activities will continue soon, because Thailand is so dependent on tourism,” Scowsill told Campaign Asia-Pacific.
He added that Thailand enjoys the advantage of being a year-round destination. “You can run the tourism campaign throughout the year, unlike in Europe where tourism only peaks during the summer season," Scowsill said. "Thailand will be in good shape this time.”
Following the king's death, brands in Thailand acted swiftly, replacing commercial advertising with tributes highlighting the king’s legacy and Thai history. Retail displays at malls were also changed to black themes overnight, and reports say that prices for black clothing have soared due to overwhelming demand from the grieving public.
Screens at the Paragon Cineplex in Bangkok show portraits of the late king in place of adverts.
Pic @Sahamongkolfilm via @RichardBarrow
Yupin Muntzing, CEO of McCann Worldgroup Thailand, said brands that acted with compassion in accordance with the national tragedy during this period will gain loyalty among consumers, adding that brands are still planning ahead for what what they intend to do in a longer term.
"Those brands that follow the king’s example in helping the people will endear themselves to the Thai consumers," Muntzing said. “Some of the smaller brands provided refreshment to mourners gathering on the streets, and this simple act of kindness will be remembered by the consumers.”
Preetanjali Kukreja, strategy director at Brand New Day, shared the sentiment, saying that the king had led by a great example and the nation should use his legacy to move forward.