BangkokTourism

Why aren’t tourists returning to Khao San Road?

FILE PHOTO: Vendors are still waiting for crowds like the heyday of Khao San Road, pictured above.

The past few years have been dark for tourism in Thailand and around the world. The Covid-19 global pandemic closed borders and killed tourism in so many crucial areas. Khao San Road, the vibrant, bustling backpacker haven of Thailand’s capital city of Bangkok quickly fell into a desolate ghost town. Now, the last pandemic restrictions have been lifted, and the government is constantly reporting floods of international tourists bringing Thailand back to life. But vendors on Khao San Road say they’re just not seeing the tourism numbers that were predicted even as all Covid restrictions have been lifted.

The popular tourist neighbourhood took a beating when restrictions started rolling out. Bars were among the first businesses to close, and authorities did everything they could to prevent poorly ventilated crowded places to operate in the face of airborne disease. So Khao San Road – packed densely full of eating and drinking backpackers and cafes, street bars, and shops crowding them for their business – was a prime target to be shut down for most of the pandemic.

The Bangkok Post recently interviewed vendors on the street now though, and they all say that they have not seen the crowds come surging back even as the last of the pandemic restrictions were lifted last month. They are calling on the government the launch tourism campaigns luring international travellers back to Khao San Road and the surrounding area. One vendor selling clothing in a street stall appealed to foreigners to return.

“We’re still waiting for them…. come back to Khao San. We still need all of you. There are few foreign customers today. Before the pandemic, I earned around 5,000–6,000 baht a day, but now I earn just 1,000–2,000 baht a day. After the pandemic, most foreign tourists are more careful with spending. It’s even harder to close a sale each time. They want me to give them a big discount.”

Vendors called on the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and the Tourism Authority of Thailand to focus their efforts on raising awareness of unrestricted travel in Thailand. They also want help promoting that while many costs have skyrocketed in the industry, accommodation is still affordable on Khao San Road, and the area is linked to plenty of tourist attractions. The road lies just a short walk from the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo. Great shopping, dining, and other attractions are just a short hop away.

A pad Thai seller said she was happy to be back on Khao San Road for the first time since the pandemic, even though she is earning half as much as before. But she called on the government to support the area, promoting holidays and events. Before the coronavirus, Khao San was packed for every special event or holiday.

“We have not celebrated the new year and the Songkran festivals together for two years. So, the government must organise these two big events next year and should regularly promote events every holiday to encourage tourists to visit.”

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Neill Fronde

Neill is a journalist from the United States with 10+ years broadcasting experience and national news and magazine publications. He graduated with a degree in journalism and communications from the University of California and has been living in Thailand since 2014.