How the 2011 Thailand elections will affect business and travellers


Introduction

The 2011 Thailand elections will be an eventful few months for the country and businesses and travellers will be affected by the newest political climate change. If you want to know how business and travellers will be affected, then read on. In this article you will learn how recent events and the elections have affected business leaders viewpoints, travel and tourism, government agencies along with the what the next few months has in stall for everyone with exposure to Thailand. By the end of the article you will know all the key facts and have all the ingredients to make a more balanced and accurate assessment of the 2011 Thailand elections and how your business or travellers will be affected.
Following recent discussions and visits to Thailand, I have compiled the sum of all discussions and observations from a variety of business, government, travel and security sectors in this article.

Business Leader’s Viewpoint

The best way to describe the viewpoint of the majority of Thailand based business leaders is polarized. There are those that are adamant, along with their advisors, that the elections signal the end of days for sustainable business in Thailand. This group loves conspiracy theories and sees evidence in their views in every event and incident that happens within the country. Conversely, there are the ones that don’t see what all the fuss is about and believe the entire event is just a storm in a teacup with little concern for the elections or the entire state of the country. This group has also regularly been disrupted by recent historical events within the country as they just didn’t see it coming nor did they have a plan. The problem is that both groups mix with like-minded thinkers and never entertain the validity of either side’s viewpoint nor do they inject new views or opinions into their considerations or final standpoints.
The fact remains that much of the focus and discussions are on issues that are nothing more than inconsequential celebrity dramas. Everyone loves a good story and some juicy gossip but the reality is that not much of these conversations are either relevant to the every day situation in the country or have that much direct impact on business, business leaders or travellers. Most business leaders would be better served focusing on the day-to-day limitations and challenges in the country and how some of these upcoming election events can stress or disrupt the already present deficiencies and sub-optimal business standards within the country but for the most part it will have minimal impact on the majority of businesses and travellers.

Travel and Tourism

The official tourism figures for Thailand are wrong; at best they are significantly inflated. Tourist and travel numbers to the country are down. Anyone can see that main tourist areas and facilities are noticeably more quite than they should be at this time of the year and this trend has been running for several months. However, most of this is not Thailand’s fault and not related to the demonstrations and political tensions over the past couple of years.
Japanese tourist numbers are down due to the tsunami, middle east visitors are down due to unrest and disturbances in their region, Australian tourists are exploiting the week US exchange rate to head to areas they couldn’t previously afford and the Russian and Chinese tourists predicted to add sizable numbers to the annual travel have not materialized due largely to the fact they are not repeat visitors or only travel during narrow windows throughout the year.
Competition for medical tourism is increasing in the region, leaving Thailand to refocus and become more competitive in an area they once dominated.
All these factors combined, has resulted in significantly decreased travel numbers and providers and the industry is feeling the pinch with continuous efforts to get the numbers back up but they are not staying away because of any inherent fear.
Online search terms relating to Thailand and the overall security situation in Thailand indicates the majority of travel safety concerns have long passed and interest in the country remains as strong as ever over the past year.

Police and Military Forces

The upcoming election presents another opportunity for the police and military to re-engage in their long running opposition to each other’s role in the domestic political affairs of Thailand. Old scores have been settled in the past and opportunities to discredit the other have been exploited too. These issues and tactile events are not related to the overall safety and security within the country but do provide news worthy incidents or raise concerns to the uninitiated when a grenade attack or shooting takes place. While it is highly possible similar events will occur during the election (post pre and post election periods) it will not have a major impact on either businesses or travellers, as it hasn’t in the past 50 years this division has been taking shape.

Monarchy

Many are still concerned or talking about the monarchy and in particular the health of the king and a succession plan. His influence is not what it once was and many have already factored in this new influence into both financial markets and business threats. It is no secret that the King is highly revered and any decline in his health or passing will affect the country immensely but it will not trigger any major disputes or political realignments that have not already taken place or have not been in play for many years already. As to the succession issues, this will be a mere spectator drama as people and groups take sides but it will not have a great impact on the country’s business and travel landscape to any great degree, in either the short or long term.

Wild Cards

Demonstrations and political disputes have and will continue to provide for wild card entrants. Black shirt heavies, settling of outstanding business disputes, random acts of violence, crimes of opportunity are all possible but not part of the overall theme or related to the events taking place. Unfortunately most are unable to discount or separate these acts and see all events as parts of the whole. Unless directly related to the political outcome, business operations or travellers, such events should be assessed and identified as unrelated and decoupled from the overall view or assessment before seeking to modify any pre-prepared plans on the basis of one or more unrelated, albeit exciting, events or incidents.

The Path to Major Disruptions

In order for the elections to contribute to any major changes within Thailand that would affect business and travellers, there would need to be several significant indicators or events present before such a path was inevitable or plausible. These events would not be limited geographical issues such as demonstrations or small scale political disputes but widespread systemic changes to the law, business climate, personal safety, economic stability and so on. Given the time and will required to affect such changes, none of this would be an overnight scenario but would take time and present in a series of related steps with the end objective clearly telegraphed and apparent to all. Therefore, businesses, leaders and travellers would have more than sufficient time to identify the change, modify plans and respond accordingly without the unnecessary pressure of immediate or spontaneous decisions.

Past Demonstrations Impact

Demonstrations and disruptions are not new to Thailand, particularly to Bangkok. The economic loss and sustained business impact these events have caused have greatly reduced local, public support within Bangkok for such actions. Across the board, business owners and employees have suffered as a result of the hype and reality of past demonstrations and sporadic violence.
In order to get sheer numbers to attend and support specific political parties events, they have bussed most of them in from loyal jurisdictions or rural communities on promises of fee-for-attendance/support. This remains the only real way to get such numbers but increasingly locally affected business are fed up with the loss and inconvenience rallies and demonstrations have created. Not to mention the negative image the country has attracted due to the various news reports, images and occasional violence.
Future political action is unlikely to follow the same model and local support within Bangkok especially will be very low and likely not to be tolerated for as long as it has been in the past, by all stakeholders.
General awareness of the great divide between social classes or the so called haves and have nots is growing. Speed and ease of communications has guaranteed that many more Thais are aware of the existing and growing divide between the privileged and general masses. While this will be a political lightning rod for some campaigners it will not be fixed in the short term however many Thais will be increasingly more vocal and motivated to seek change if they continue to feel exploited for other’s gain.

Strategy Versus Tactics

Strategy should be the main concern and interest for business leaders and observation of short-term tactics the concern for travellers. Very few events have warranted the label or consideration as strategy by both sides, with most business leaders focusing too much on the isolated tactile events that have short term, minimal impact upon their various businesses. Tactics include demonstrations, violence, road closures, and political accusations. Strategy is how the business landscape and opportunity will change or look in 6 months to a year from now. Very little regarding strategy is likely to affect businesses (nor should they waste an inordinate amount of time analyzing it either) but occasional tactical issues will present which can be observed and mitigated with good planning and implementation for the most part.

Forecast

The Thailand election for 2011 will disappoint most. It will not bring immediate and sweeping changes for those in need, it will not resolve all the political tensions and divisions within the country and it will certainly not deteriorate into an outright civil war. There will be peaks and troughs throughout the campaign and like all campaigns around the world it will not we devoid of scandal, excitement and change. However, for the most part, this will be mere white noise for business leaders and travellers. The focus should be on filtering out what is good for news broadcasts and what is relevant or within context to your situation or events.
Expect lots of archive footage, narrow street scape images with the message of military oppression, high volume reporting on any and all violent acts and comprehensive calculations and predictions on just how many colored shirts are at any one location or event. Do not expect a balanced and rational view in context to the overall size of the country and how a few disrupted intersections do not indicate the collapse of a country. Expect foreigner’s opinion and views to go up and down also, but this will be in response to media stimulus or the lack of comparative information. Again, not a real indicator.

Have a plan for general business continuity, know when travellers should/shouldn’t travel, pre-prepare an emergency plan for the more routine events such as power outage and denied access, consider relocation options if the need arises, map your resources and assets, monitor and track events as they relate directly to you, have a failsafe communications plan, use if often, prepare/educate your personnel and set up in advance your key requirements and resources to ensure successful business continuance and resilience.

Conclusion

Now you understand why the 2011 Thailand elections will be an eventful few months for the country and businesses and travellers, and why they will be affected by the newest political climate change. You now know how business and travellers will be affected. Recent events and the elections have affected business leaders viewpoints, travel and tourism, government agencies along with the fact that many are almost hoping that the election will bring suffering and catastrophe to all. This is not the case, but you need to continue to monitor the situation for the distinct changes that will mark a more problematic period but it will not be widespread disruption and violence as predicted by some. Consider all this before making your business and travel decisions and ensure you have plans and resources for any and all contingencies you need to implement. For those with completed plans, consider the above advice and forecast against your current assumptions and plans and ensure they remain relevant. For those yet to plan for the events, re-read this article and make the right plans for the most plausible events and situations without wasting too much time and resources on an “end of days” scenario that is highly unlikely to occur.

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About Tony Ridley
Travel health, safety, security and risk management expert.

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