At Large

Explaining tourism numbers

What draws tourists to a country? What factors do they take into consideration when choosing a destination? One would think that security concerns, as well as political turmoil, would at least figure in the list of issues that tourists would grapple with before making plans to visit a country.

But consider Thailand. The country is currently under martial law, with a military junta taking over the reins of government last year. A military man, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, is head of government and foreign media report that every week, the general goes on national TV to “unleash a diatribe on Thailand’s supposed failings.” While the crowds gathered in front of the government center have dissipated, the junta still keeps a close eye on any hint of dissent, however symbolic. These offenses range from wearing red, which is the color of followers of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as well as his sister Yingluck who was elected in 2011; to flashing the three-finger salute that figures in the movie franchise “The Hunger Games” that has come to be associated with rebellion; to reading George Orwell’s novel “1984.”


And yet, while the number of tourist arrivals in Thailand dropped slightly, especially at the height of the protests, the number is still to be envied. From 26 million inbound arrivals in 2013 (said to be the “peak year” for tourism in that country), tourist arrivals fell to 24.7 million last year. But consider this: Despite fervid promotions and chest-beating on the part of Philippine tourism authorities, tourist numbers in this country totaled 4.8 million in 2014, and this was already considered a record number.

And certainly, none of our tourist arrivals had to worry about wearing red in public or flashing the “Hunger Games” salute. So what gives?


* * *

Perhaps an indication is the recent visit of Thai tourism and travel authorities on what they called the “Thailand MICE Promotion Roadshow,” to promote what is known in the trade as “meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibits” that make up a significant portion of arrivals.

Nooch Homrossukhon, acting director of the Meeting and Incentives Department of the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau, an office attached to the Office of the Prime Minister, says the MICE sector has received special attention because they believe the business market has a big role in returning Thailand to the high tourist numbers it has enjoyed.

To foreigners’ concerns about peace and order in her country, Nooch says that “by word of mouth and personal testimonials,” they have managed to overcome the common fears people have when they find out the country is under martial law. “Social media has been really important,” she adds, and her office has gone out of its way to invite netizens to “just come and see the real thing.”

For now, says Nooch, the top slot among foreign MICE arrivals is being contested by China and India. “They feel like they’re home,” explains Nooch, although she doesn’t elaborate. Another factor that makes Thailand a desired destination, she adds, is the “competitive pricing in hotels.”

Thailand’s tourism industry, Nooch points out, is largely dependent on the Asian market, which is why they were in the country to encourage more MICE tours from a small market like the Philippines. At the same time, the government and private sector are embarking on projects like a new huge water theme park, new and bigger shopping malls, and infrastructure projects to lure even more arrivals. Perhaps security concerns aren’t really “top of mind” among leisure-seeking tourists. But maybe unceasing hard work on the part of tourism authorities is also part of Thailand’s success.



Recently, I reported in this space about worldwide efforts, a “one big push,” to finally eradicate the threat of polio, especially in the last three remaining “endemic” countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

At present, the dominant means to provide immunity against the polio virus is the oral polio vaccine which has “a unique ability to reduce person-to-person spread of the virus.”

But to finally put an end to the threat of polio, world health authorities are pushing for the inclusion (or addition) of the injectable polio vaccine (IPV) to routine immunization schedules. This is meant to “boost the immunity provided by OPV and hasten the eradication of wild poliovirus.” Dr. T. Jacob John from India has said that “children have even greater immunity against polio when they receive both OPV and IPV,” setting the stage for the eventual transition to IPV, once wild poliovirus has been eradicated. “It’s important to remember that OPV causes paralysis only on very rare occasions (one in 2.7 million children receiving the first dose) and that the risk of vaccine-derived poliovirus is increased when immunization rates are low.”

What parents should also keep in mind is that vaccination—against polio or other childhood and adult diseases—does not always provide permanent or assured protection against a disease. Miss one shot in a schedule and your child—or even you—will be vulnerable to any of the viruses that threaten our health.

Another reason regular immunization is encouraged is something called “herd immunity”: When a large enough number of people are protected against a disease, the chance of that disease affecting one child—maybe your child!—is greatly reduced. The immunity received by the “herd” of other children and adults protects to a certain extent even those who have not or do not receive the needed medication. But as a parent, would you still take the chance?

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TAGS: polio, Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand, Thailand MICE Promotion Roadshow, Tourism
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