As the death toll climbs past a reported 40 from the recent sinking of a tourist boat in Phang Nga Bay, social media in Mainland China is creating a hailstorm of negative criticism about Phuket.
While there is a general perception in Thailand that the tourism market dodged a bullet, with the Chiang Rai cave story dominating mainstream international media, effectively marginalising the Phuket incident, the reality is that out of sight is not necessarily out of mind.
The reality of the power of social media and decline of legacy traditional news sources is clearly an issue. Despite back slapping about Phuket not drawing large attention on CNN, BBC and similar outlets, it would be ignorant to not understand that the parallel universe of Baidu (the Chinese Twitter) and highly influential bloggers is having a field day at tourism Thailand’s expense.
Every manner of public forum is now filled with commentary, and support, talking about threatened boycotts, poor tourism safety and a general lack of sympathy for Chinese. It’s dark, ominous and extremely damaging.
One only has to understand that mass tourism is at one end of the stick, a nationalistic endeavor. It can give, but more importantly it can take away. Take the Malaysian Airlines MH370 case, where a dramatic backlash occurred after the incident. South Korea and Taiwan also recently experienced similar widespread fallout by Mainland China travelers who effectively went Missing In Action.
For Phuket, Mainland Chinese tourists are edging close to 40% of international arrivals, as Q1 year-on-year growth surged by 50%. There is little doubt that the island’s tourism market has become overly reliant on a mono-market and the reality that the numbers game may have a dark side, is coming home to roost.
Safety and security of tourists should be one of the highest priorities for the industry and understanding our customers who, despite not appearing in Thai or English media news, are clearly in crisis and cannot be ignored.
How Phuket’s ‘boatgate’ plays out as a long-term issue is still very much in the air but for now greater and immediate attention needs to be given to managing the gathering storm.
Even Jack Ma isn’t going to be able to solve this one, unless the industry becomes more in touch with their largest customer base.
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