King's Death Slows Tourist Visits To Thailand
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The death of Thailand's beloved king this month left many Thais in mourning. It also created uncertainty for some in that country's tourism industry, which accounts for at least 10 percent of the country's GDP. Michael Sullivan has more.
MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: It doesn't happen very often, but Bangkok's infamous red light district, Soi Cowboy, went dark the weekend after the king's death. The go-go bar shuttered out of respect for the king, and they pretty much stayed that way for more than a week. And that meant many working here couldn't earn.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No money for me and for bar. No money for all the girl.
SULLIVAN: No money for her, this woman who doesn't want to be named says, and no money for any of the women working in the bars who she says can make close to $100 on a good night. And the income lost is felt not just here but back in the villages where many send money to their families. But it's not the money she's upset about, she says. It's the loss of her king, and she's not alone.
RATIYA THONGTAMLUNG: My name is Ratiya Thongtamlung.
SULLIVAN: Ratiya runs a travel agency called Boarding Pass in Bangkok's Sukhumvit neighborhood. She's wearing black today, like many Thais, and has been every day since the king died. Her heart hurts, she says, and her business has taken a hit, too.
THONGTAMLUNG: I have one group for a wedding in Thailand from India cancel.
SULLIVAN: How big a group?
THONGTAMLUNG: Four hundred people cancel.
SULLIVAN: So far, she says, that's been the worst of it - for her business at least. A few blocks away, Yuthasil Silapasorn, who manages about 15 mid-range hotels in Bangkok, says he's had cancellations after the king's death, too.
YUTHASIL SILAPASORN: Next week should be better, but at least we can say that it's not bad, but it's too slow.
SULLIVAN: So as a percentage, your business this week dropped from last week how much?
SILAPASORN: It's around 15-20 percent, something like that.
SULLIVAN: Yuthasil reckons those who cancelled were simply confused about the situation, how long the mourning period would last, what was open, what wasn't, et cetera. Just give it a little time, he says. On Soi Cowboy, they're not waiting.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SULLIVAN: A few bars are still shuttered, but most are open again, the lights are on and so's the party inside go-go bars like this one, Suzie Wong, where scantily clad go-go girls twirl and smile for the mainly foreign customers. This is just a slice of the overall Thai tourism market, more famous for its beaches and temples. But scenes like this suggest things are already settling down.
Back at the Boarding Pass travel agency, Ratiya Thongtamlung is also confident. Her business has weathered two coups and several violent political demonstrations in the past 10 years, and none of it's put much of a dent in Thai tourism. In fact, this year, the government is predicting a record number of tourist arrivals despite the king's death. And that's OK with Ratiya, but for her, it's still going to be a long year.
THONGTAMLUNG: For foreigner, it’s OK, but for Thais, still hurt. He more than father.
SULLIVAN: She's planning on wearing black the entire year in honor of her king. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Bangkok. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.