What Happens Next? Interview with the Thai Tourism Minister

What Happens Next? Interview with the Thai Tourism Minister

On Monday the Minister of Tourism, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, briefed the ambassadors and other foreign diplomats on the situation in Thailand following the passing of King Bhumibol. The theme of her presentation was “Life Goes On” (download here). A couple of the ambassadors posted a few of the power point slides. Which was kind of them, but not very helpful for me. So, I tweeted that it would be nice if the Minister also briefed travel writers based in Thailand. I didn’t think anything would come of it, but as it turned out, the Minister’s sister follows me on Twitter. Apparently she told Kobkarn about what I was tweeting and she immediately invited me in for my own private briefing. Which is what I did on Wednesday. Below are some of my notes and observations.

First to say, there has been no situation like this for the last seventy years. There is no script of how to handle the grieving. I know it may sound strange as we all knew this day was coming. But, there is a Thai superstition that if you talk about it in advance, it is like you are inviting that bad event to happen. So, there was no discussion of what to do the day that the King died. Of course, everyone was in deep shock for the first three or so days. The King wasn’t your average King. He was literally the Father of the Nation and his death was a great loss to the Kingdom.

mots6

The immediate reaction was to call for a year of mourning and to cancel all of the upcoming events. But, as time passed, they realized that this wasn’t really practical or sustainable. After all, over four million Thais depend on the tourism industry and this kind of closure would hurt not only them, but the country too. And so, as the days go on, we are starting to see some of the earlier events being reinstated. However, they are being adapted to make them more appropriate for the mourning period.

The problem we have is that no-one knows how the Thais will feel two, three, or even four months down the road. What is appropriate for New Year? What is appropriate for Christmas? When the King first died they were saying, cancel for sure. Now they are saying that these events can go ahead but need to be adjusted appropriately. But, no-one can say yet what exactly that means. Like I said, no-one knows what the mood will be like in a few months. The same goes for Songkran. Will they want to celebrate by that time? They just cannot answer that question yet. And it would be wrong of us to try and push them on this.

mots7

Another problem is that not everyone will grieve in the same way. Although the government has issued guidelines on what is appropriate at the different times, not everyone will follow in the same way. For example, there is a 30 day mourning period and most people are wearing black. After that, some will choose to wear normal clothes again. The funeral rites last for 100 days and so we will probably find some people wearing black for those 100 days. Then there are people like government workers who will wear black for one year. The same goes for owners of hotels and nightclubs. Some have already turned the music on. Others will wait longer. It is up to them. That is why it is not consistent across the country.

Khun Kobkarn told me that all cultural, religious and sporting events can go ahead as normal, but they must adapt the mood and tone to respect the Thai people. So, no loud music or fireworks. The focus will now be on the cultural and religious side of the events. There will be some limitations during the first 30 days of mourning up to 13th November. After that, she expects things to get back to more like normal. However, as the funeral rites last for 100 days, until 21st January, they are asking people to celebrate in an appropriate manner. But, what exactly does this mean? As we have seen, people are going to interpret that in different ways.

WORLD CUP QUALIFIER: The international football match between Australia and Thailand is going ahead. However, the Thai FA announced strict rules like no cheering and chanting, no banners and the Thai team cannot wear their normal colourful shirts. However, that was the initial reaction. As it is outside the 30 day mourning period, it is possible the rules will be softened. After all, they would be cheering for the national team, for King and Country. The Minister said she would like to see that but it is the decision of the Thai FA.

HALLOWEEN: This is arguably a cultural event though not one from Thailand. It is an adopted tradition from elsewhere in the world. There are no bans on parties behind closed doors which means Halloween can go on as scheduled.

LOY KRATHONG: As this is a cultural event, it will go ahead as planned. Most of the activities won’t change, but there will be no concerts, fireworks or any beauty contests. However, people can float krathongs and take part in cultural activities.

CHRISTMAS: This is a religious activity and so it isn’t cancelled. Christian schools can go ahead with their normal events to celebrate the birth of Jesus. There will be Christmas decorations up in Bangkok and across the country. But, it is too early to say what this will be like. It will be up to the owners of malls and private buildings as to what is appropriate. There will be trees covered in lights for sure. But it is not clear about the colours. It was suggested that colours like gold might be good to represent the king. Christmas carols will also most likely be played. Though, if we are lucky, not so loud and not literally everywhere.

NEW YEAR COUNTDOWN: There will be a public countdown for sure. Though it is not clear yet how they will make this appropriate. It is also doubtful there will be fireworks. There will be music, but they are not sure what kind yet. However, if you attend a private countdown party in a club or hotel, then they will continue exactly the same as last year.

UPDATE: CentralWorld has announced they won’t be organizing a Countdown this year. Nor will they have beer gardens

CHINESE NEW YEAR: This is a cultural and religious event and so will continue. At this moment in time, they are saying it can go ahead and people can wear red. But they should also wear a black ribbon.

SONGKRAN: Again, this is a cultural event with religious overtones. So, this will be going ahead for sure. However, it will be adapted to be more traditional with a gentle sprinkling of water instead of wild water fights. All of the cultural sides of the festival will be emphasized and promoted. In some way, I think this might be a really good Songkran.

I hope that gives you a clearer idea of what is happening now and in the future in Thailand. There will be further updates soon and so please stay tuned (See my Situation Updates). If you are planning on coming to Thailand for a holiday, then I would say there is no reason to cancel. Everything is open as normal. This includes, shopping malls, markets and tourist attractions. The only place closed at the moment is the Grand Palace and that will re-open on 1st November 2016. As far as nightlife goes, they are open again, serving alcohol and playing music behind closed doors. Though some are closing earlier than normal. Once, the 30 day mourning period finishes in mid-November, it should be back to normal.

You can tweet me question on @RichardBarrow or Facebook or post comments below. Thank you.

24 thoughts on “What Happens Next? Interview with the Thai Tourism Minister

  1. Thank you for the update – it is just as I thought – a very fluid situation which will change constantly. I sincerely hope people will be able to cheer at the football and support their team.

  2. Mr Barrow, sorry for bad English. My granddaughter and her Husband come back late yesterday from China Rai,( flight 2 hours late)
    they ask many many taxi for going to My Condo Bangna, every Taxy they ask not want Meter and just want 1000.00 baht from DON muang to Bangna. At llest one OK for 400.00 baht but was like crazy drove 140. km in the town and very very dangerous…. I think situation more bad then ever. Thank you.for write something about this

      1. The taxi queue at Don Mueang is quite good – surprisingly efficient. On numerous occasions I had 50 or even 80 people ahead of me in the queue, but I didn’t have to wait too long as the line moved quite quickly. The taxis are decent (though not as nice as my favorite pick, the Prius Taxi by ALLTHAI – part of Nakornchai Bus Company).

  3. Tourism is so important for Thailand and for the Thai people. It is a very difficult time for all weighing the balance between mourning and survival. I congratulate the Minister and you Richard on this initiative.

  4. Very informatant Richard..
    I jave only been here 1 year but I was very curious as to what the future had in store.
    Keep up the great work..
    Best wishes

  5. Richard super the photo with the Minister of Tourism. Very useful information. As I would come during the 100 days of funeral rites, I bought some dark clothes (but white color is not prohibited). Thank you again for yours updates!

  6. Richard, thank you very much for this summary. I would like to point out two main issues which are from my point of view of major importance:
    – The one is, that the King was without any doubt maybe the most loved person in the world and united Thai people as much as nothing else
    – Second thing you point out is, that everyone is interpreting the mourning in a different way.
    And this is where my concerns start: Now Thai people still are united under the impression of the passing of the beloved King. But after 30 days or later, I am concerned things will not get back to normal, but into an opposite direction. Fights and violence about how to behave right could break out, some people will claim to tell other people what to do and how to behave. And there is no power like the King anymore who unites them.

    You are free to delete this comment if you find it inappropriate. But as a frequent traveller to Thailand (just returned back to Europe a few days before the king passed away) I really wish but I have my doubts, that Thai society will manage to get over this difficult period without facing some major problems in near future.

  7. Thank you for the summary report. I appreciate it along with the valuable service(s) you provide, particularly to us foreigners. I follow you on both Twitter and Facebook.

    I have to admit that I am a little surprised that you did not wear a black shirt, if not black pants as well, as a symbol of respect, being that you know you were meeting with the minister. I understand you wore a dark (navy) shirt, but I think black would have been more appropriate. Failing that, at least a black ribbon.

  8. @Mark
    It looks to me like he is wearing an official marked pool shirt no?
    And maybe it is black ,just the picture has been filtered maybe?

    1. Thanks. Yes, it’s a very dark blue. It was a smartphone photo without flash. I lightened the picture before I posted it. And yes, it is my Press Association of Samut Prakan shirt. Originally I thought I was just attending the press briefing. It was only later that I found out I was going to have a private meeting with the Minister after the press briefing. The topic of what expats should wear came up and she said, for example, that what I was wearing was suitable for mourning. I normally wear black every day, but on that day, I wanted to wear my press shirt. Thank you for your comments.

  9. We must see on the top photo of this post, search the color unit. So a member of the press representative of a foreign country at the Kingdom of Thailand will not seek to shock his Thai interlocutors.
    This country must continue to be well regarded by respect for the the passing of the late His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

  10. Thanks for this. I am Thai, I know this is big change, I don’t know the future, but I can see and being one of the Thais to unite and do good for our country and our belove king. Friends and I meet and promise each others that we will be less selfish, more caring and sharing to the people in needed.
    In the time of grieves, rich people give more to the poor. You may see the significant evedent at the Palace now, but locally, we give black shirts to the poor people, give them rice, food, and support the farmers. We are now buying rice directly from the farmers to help them get better price.
    I truly arppeciate you all to pay attention and show you kind thoughts for us.
    Khop Khun Ka

  11. my trip to Thailand is planed for November 28 .for scuba diving some of the islands ,should i thank about going to Indonesia instead at this time ???

      1. Hi Richard

        I’ve been following your site since sad passing of the King of Thailand. I really appreciate all that you do well you communicate with us.

        I am currently in Pattaya and I would like to make you and all your readers aware of the appalling conduct of the Cafe Royale, in Boyztown, Pattaya.

        They are the only club in the area who are flaunting the guidelines for showing respect during the period of morning. They have the doors wide open, with loud music blasting out halfway through the night. It us currently 02:30 on a Tuesday night/Wednesday morning and it is still happening. This kind of behaviour from a business is absolutely appalling and shows no respect for the Royal Family or the Thai people.

        I hope the authorities step in and close them down under the tight laws regarding lack of respect to The King.

  12. Hi,

    thank you for all the information.
    Is there more news about the new year celebrations in patong this year?

    I’m fortunate to be there this year whit new year.

    Best regards,
    Chris Jonker

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *