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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

TravelMole: Fingers crossed, Bangkok will be back

I flew into Bangkok for a brief visit last week, a trip that included a thank-you dinner for hundreds of overseas travel agents and media who were winding down from a mega fam trip.

It was here that I chatted to 92-year-old Kusa Panyarachun, managing director of World Travel Services in Bangkok, and senior president of the Tourism Council of Thailand.

Khun Kusa is a sprightly, neat figure in an expensive suit who attributes his longevity to the family genes, regular exercise and, he told me, “a few glasses of Australian Penfolds red wine each night”.

Educated in the United States, he served as a paratrooper in the US Army before returning to Thailand to build up the family travel business, pretty much from scratch.

His youngest brother was once prime minister of Thailand.

“I still go to work every day and I work very hard,” he said proudly.

During the recent political turmoil in Bangkok, which tourism people here guardedly refer to as “the incident”, the sudden downturn in business forced Khun Kusa to consider laying off many of his 600 staff.

Instead he cut everyone’s wages by 25 percent but did not sack a single worker.

“Now business is a little better and I am cutting pay only by 10 percent,” he said.

I asked him how long it would take for business to return to pre-incident levels.

Khun Kusa held out both hands in front of his chest and crossed his fingers.

Much of Bangkok appears to have its fingers crossed at the moment, including the bar girls as they try to drum up dwindling business.

Over lunch, the sales and marketing director of a Thai resort told me that the bars were operating as best they could while Bangkok is still under a state of emergency.

He said, “At two in the morning, the police come round to make sure the clubs and bars are closed for the night. The girls go outside, smoke a cigarette and when the police have finished their rounds, they open up the bars again.”

That’s Bangkok. It’s doing it tough but it won’t give in.

Ian Jarrett is editor TravelMole Asia Pacific


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The Expeditionist

The Expeditionist
Venturing to the world's special places