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Thais still bullish on tourism after mourning period

18 November 2016 - The China Post/AFP

Tourist arrivals to Thailand have not been hit by a strict mourning period for late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, authorities said Monday, as curbs on entertainment and celebration imposed since his death one month ago were eased.

King Bhumibol’s death on Oct. 13 after a seven-decade reign has sparked mass displays of grief and left the politically divided nation without its only unifying figure.

The junta, which seized power in 2014, instituted an initial monthlong mourning period, which lapsed on Monday.

In the last month Thais have worn black or white, bars have closed early, many sporting events and concerts have been cancelled with television networks even ordered to pull soap operas from their schedules.

The measures had raised fears that tourists would be deterred from visiting a country renowned for its wild nightlife and carefree atmosphere, just as peak visitor season gets into swing.

But Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said a target set before the king’s death of a record 32 million arrivals for 2016 — up from 30 million last year — remained in reach.

“So far numbers have not dropped, that’s from the surveys we did and from numbers from overseas offices,” he told AFP.

“The government wants life to go on and we also want that,” he added.

Despite the monthlong restrictions on entertainment and celebration, authorities have also struck a pragmatic note aware of the potential to damage the cash-cow tourism sector — a rare bright spot in an otherwise gloomy economy.

A similar pragmatism has emerged in the country’s red light districts with venues turning down the music and go-go dancers swapping their usually garish outfits for black bikinis and dresses.

Despite the easing of restrictions on entertainment, festivities are likely to remain comparatively muted for the foreseeable future.

Thais marked the annual Loy Krathong religious festival on Monday evening, a picturesque celebration where millions of candles are floated on rivers or lanterns released into the air.

But fireworks were forbidden, deemed not in keeping with the somber national mood.

“Authorities will enforce … the order banning the lighting of fireworks,” deputy national police spokesman Police Colonel Krissana Pattanacharoen told reporters, adding those who breached it would face up to three years in jail.

In the northern city of Chiang Mai, where the festival usually draws tens of thousands of tourists, locals said they were expecting smaller crowds.

“Since he (the king) passed away business has gone down a little bit,” Tik Srirat, a hotel owner in the town told AFP.

“But as an owner I am not too concerned about it because of the circumstances — we all feel deeply about the king.”

Many Thai websites on Monday also switched back to color after a month of adopting monochrome tones.

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