Tourism accounts for about 10% of the Thai economy, employs hundreds of thousands of people and generates as much as US$65 billion in foreign currency.
But the ongoing political crisis that saw the military junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) take power and the brutal murder of two British tourists in Phuket has seen arrival figures plummet.
According to Reuters tourist arrivals dropped 10.3% in the first 9 months of this year and 2014 will see negative arrival growth for the first time in years. The authorities have moved fast to stem the hemorrhaging with a crackdown on widespread crime, corruption and inflated costs encountered buy all but the most savvy visitors to the country.
In Phuket many of the illegal buildings, sunbed conmen, intimidating food and drink vendors, dubious boat operators and unscrupulous taxi operators have been yanked off the beach and a certain calm has returned.
Initial attempts to get tourists to come back included ramping up mass advertising and a travel insurance scheme that provided visitors who couldn’t get insurance because the country was under martial law, with insurance.
Unsurprisingly these didn’t have much of an impact. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) changed tack and came up with what it calls “A romantic comedy short film.” TAT initially released the video as consumer generated media but soon found itself having to explain the film was actually an advertisement for Thailand even though TAT wanted to create an ‘unbranded’ advertisement because ‘they receive more interest than conventional commercials.’
The spot is a counter intuitive attempt to show a more hospitable Thailand by featuring a young British tourist who has had his bag stolen and does the British thing of ranting at everyone as a result and finally declaring “I hate this place. I hate Thailand.”
Then he meets a beautiful Thai girl and a bunch of other people who rally round and help him. Sure enough, after some beautiful sunsets, scenes with kids and wonderful encounters his bag is returned with his passport and money still inside.
Counter intuitive differentiation is a brave model to use to sell a destination. But it’s also a model from a different era. An era when brands controlled the message and pushed it out across billboards, full page ads with tear offs in the corner and press releases. An era when consumers took those ads at face value and believed what brands told them. An era without the Internet.
The video is a fun piece that has received 1,500,000 views in 10 days with 21,000 Likes on YouTube. But here’s the rub. TAT should have been upfront about the video. As it is, they have given the impression it is consumer generated and that is wrong.
The video has also received more than 1,625 comments and the majority of them are not very complimentary. In fact some of them are downright hostile, talking about robberies, threats of violence, policemen that don’t speak English whilst others say the video is a scam and wrong.
One Thai commented, “Its too good to be true. No one would come by and give you a drink like that and Thai people wouldn’t give you sleepover at their house, especially in the tourist area.”
Another focused more on the deception, “How you will discover the truth by watching a fake video where the first words are already a lie. His name is not James. His name is Oliver Smith and he got paid by TAT to make this video. Look around yourself and consider how many real friends are left if you are out of money. This is not a Thai related issue it is everywhere around the world the same story. No money no honey. Same same but different. I love Thailand but I definately hate liars. And using lies to portrait (sic) a countries (sic) image is a mistake and an insult to all the honest Thai citizens. If they just made a short statement at the end of this clip that this is a TAT promotional video I would give my congratulations for that nice pink tinted heart moving clip.”
TAT is going to have to work harder than creating a video and passing it off as genuine consumer generated media to restore faith in the country.
It’ll need to work out a strategy and communicate that strategy effectively with multiple proof points. And if it wants to use social media and create influencers it needs to do it properly. There are no shortcuts in branding.