An endless cycle of one step forward, two steps back as their businesses are relentlessly wounded by events out of their control: floods, riots, demonstrations, and now martial law (update: now officially a military coup and there is a 10pm – 5am curfew).
Yes, the army is in charge. And the army is not good for tourism.
Witness the accompanying image sent by the Tourism Authority of Thailand to media this week. Soldiers with guns and face paint on the march. It’s not a good look.
Neither is the message from the poor old TAT, which should be promoting beaches and hill tribes, luxury resorts and some of the world’s best food.
Instead, it says: “Following the declaration of martial law by the Royal Thai Army, which covers the entire Thailand, life in the kingdom continues as normal.
“According to the army statement, this is not a coup, but a mean to restore peace and order for people from all sides, and that the public should not panic and to live their lives as normal.”
You’ll notice that the TAT used the word “normal” a lot, even in relation to the anti-government demonstrations, which just shows how entrenched the chaos has become.
“All public transport and tourist attractions, including airports, tourist sites and shopping malls, are currently open and operating as normal.
“Meanwhile, the situation at the rally sites of both anti- and pro-government groups in Bangkok remains normal.”
And the TAT is right. Life goes on but tourism businesses are paying the price once again.
Let’s use Dusit International, one of Thailand’s best known hotel groups, as an example.
It’s just relaunched Dusit.com – looks great – and which is looking to build on a stellar start to the year.
“Revenue driven from direct online bookings via dusit.com have grown some 250% year-on-year in Q1 2014,” said Catherine McNabb, Vice President – Sales and Marketing, Dusit International.
“Enhanced functionality on the website will further drive consumer engagement on dusit.com.”
But the first thing visitors see when they click through is this message:
For those with poor eyesight, it says: “Martial Law was declared in Thailand to ensure peace and order throughout the country.
“The safety and security of our guests remains paramount,
“In the meantime our hotels are operating as normal.”
Normal. There’s that word again.
Of course, this message is the right thing for Dusit to do but it’s very existence is not reassuring because as soon as you say there’s not trouble, people think of trouble.
One vaguely encouraging sign is that Bangkok hoteliers are finally toughening and adjusting to the volatile market in which they operate.
The latest analysis from STR Global showing that they are staying strong on rates despite a collapse in demand caused by constant civil and political unrest.
Average rates during the March quarter fell just 0.6% year on year while occupancy collapsed 30.7% to 55.2%.
In the past, room rates would have been slashed by a similar level, but calls by industry leaders to hold firm look like they have produced a united front – for now.
“The hotel industry in Bangkok has taken a hit as a result of the political unrest,” said Elizabeth Winkle, managing director of STR Global.
“In February and March, Bangkok reported the lowest occupancy figures since August 2010.”
Meanwhile, major resort destinations are faring much better than Bangkok.
“Resort markets, such as Koh Samui and Phuket, traditionally command higher rates than Bangkok (and) the recent unrest has increased the gap even further,” she said
For example, “rates in Koh Samui in Q1 2014 were nearly three times higher than in Bangkok.”
However, overall, Thailand’s performance in Q1 has been dampened by Bangkok, as demand fell 16.6%, and the country reported the lowest occupancy levels (65.7%) of any first quarter since 2009.”
She said “this negative performance” followed three strong years of grow that saw key hotel markets exceed pre-recession peaks.
Now there’s martial law, even greater uncertainty is in the air, and things are back to normal in Thailand.
Bad day? Everything is relative.