The Thailand Specialists Continue Promotion in Scandinavia

Despite a very tough period in business since the tsunami struck on the Andaman coast, the Phuket-based Thailandspecialisten, run by two Swedes, is optimistic about the future. They continue promoting Thailand as a tourist destination with confidence.
     Its Managing Director Pelle Johansson reports in March from the Swedish International Travel & Tourism Trade Fair (TUR 2005) – where the online travel agent shared the Thailand pavilion with TAT – that the interest in travel to Thailand is still strong.
     TUR is Scandinavia’s leading venue for the travel and tourism industry, where they have been exhibiting for many years. “We thought not going would be the worst thing we could do, as we are usually present,” says his business partner Anders Palm. Now they are more needed than ever before.
     “We can give proof of how things really are. They trust us,” says Pelle.
     The Thailand travel specialists also continue advertising in Sweden and Norway.
     When ScandAsia met them in Phuket before the upcoming winter peak they were looking forward to their “best season ever”. At the same time they mentioned the necessity of having a reserve to be able to stay in business even if serious obstacles would occur. How right they were about the latter.
     “Without those savings we would have been out of business by now,” says Pelle.
     However, even in their wildest fantasies they could not have imaged what was to happen on December 26, 2004.
     It is as if terrorist threats, SARS, bird flew etc. were not enough. There had to be a natural disaster to really put the business community to the ultimate test; even the strongest and most experienced ones.
     Now the peak season ends up awfully disappointing, even if they could see gleams of hope already by February: “We suffer a significant loss.”
     Pelle, who is also a co-owner and Director at The Residence Kalim Bay, had to see his hotel entirely emptied of guests during January. But he can in fact consider himself lucky. The damages to the apartments were mild, and new guests started arriving from February. And on that disastrous day in December he had a guardian angel.
     He was in his car on the way to The Residence that is situated just north of Patong beach, about to reach the intersection near the beach, when motorbikes and cars, and people in panic came running towards him screaming: “Turn back!”
     “I then thought some lunatic were shooting at people on the beach or something,” Pelle recalls. He turned around and then managed to ask a couple of tourists who told him that a gigantic wave were heading towards the beach.
     Then it took more than 24 hours before he finally could reach the hotel again.
     In this connection Anders remembers another remarkable episode which the public probably do not know about. It happened on Patong beach seven years ago that t-shirts were sold with the text: ‘I survived the Patong tsunami’!
     There was in fact a warning of a tsunami and rumour of a gigantic wave caused the inhabitants in Patong to run up in the hills, says Anders. “We laughed at that then. But look what happened now.”
     The period immediately after the tsunami was difficult. The local phone lines were out of order so guests could not contact them and they could not reach the hotels. Then they had to sit for weeks and just receive cancellations, as well as trying to locate persons missing that had booked hotels and flights through them. They managed to reduce a list of thirty five people down to twelve. “So it will probably end with that figure, unfortunately,” says Anders.
     They also made sure to pay back to their customers for cancellations. “Goodwill is very important for us. It takes years to build up but you can destroy it over a night,” says Anders.
     Strangely enough no authorities, Swedish or Thai, ever contacted them for information, even though they had booked several hundreds of Swedes and Norwegians on hotels in the area.
     Anders also remembers from a few years back, when the Swedish embassy announced on their website that Swedes living in Thailand should report themselves in order for the embassy to be able to contact people in case of an emergency. “Many of us registered but never got any confirmation then, and nobody got in contact with us now. That is slightly strange,” thinks Anders even though he understands they were overworked.
     Was it the Swedish Foreign Ministry’s recommendation for people not to visit the region that made people to go home immediately?
“Yes, it was,” says Pelle. “Many places were undamaged but the charter tourists were simply forced to travel back home. Why, it was a general exodus.”
     The foreign ministry could have segmented more carefully instead of “covering the whole south west area of Thailand with a blanket, so to say,” thinks Thailandspecialisten.
     The way the disaster was depicted in the media did not exactly impress them either. “At some occasions complete lies were told,” thinks Anders about some reports in for example Sweden. “It was very interesting for the reporters to stand in front of some remains of a house, describing what Phuket looked like. It improved after a while, but a little too late.”
     Anders and Pelle are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel after a tough period. A large Norwegian group had booked with them in February. “That’s how it must start. People must come here and see for themselves, and then go back home and tell their friends things are in fact back to normal, that everything is perfectly O.K in most areas.” In this way the snowball can start rolling.
     When the charter flights resumed from Sweden the first visitors arriving in Phuket were welcomed with a huge banner: ‘Welcome back Sweden’.
     Meanwhile, giant turtles not seen for ages, have been spotted at a fairly deserted Patong beach.
     “It’s not hopeless at all, we believe in the future,” says Anders, as they are searching high and low for any available rooms on other destinations. Koh Samui, Hua Hin, Koh Chang and other places have been crowded for a longer period.
     In the aftermath of the tsunami, like on Bali after the 2002 bombing, life – and business – must go on. Especially, as Anders points out, it is important for the Thais, who can not book a flight and go back home.

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