Did Thailand's tourism ministry and other tourism entities respond quickly and effectively enough to the Bangkok bomb blast on August 17? A press conference during the UNWTO 21st General Assembly brought that question to the forefront after a travel editor said he wasn't able to get immediate responses from either the Thai government or the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), which has its headquarters in the capital city.
The event started with UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai saying, "It's not an attack on Thailand. It's an attack on all of us. Travel and tourism was chosen as a way to attack our way of life."
Thailand's Minister of Tourism and Sports Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, who flew to the assembly being held in Medellin, Colombia, specifically to address the media, said that business is finally back to normal after several weeks of cancellations, and she expects the country to hit its 2015 target of 28.8 million visitors. She noted support has been widespread. Tennis great Roger Federer will be coming to Bangkok in early October, and she praised Rifai for an interview he did on CNN "within 24 hours," and the World Travel & Tourism Council for a quick response in support of tourism to Thailand, including a visit by its President and CEO David Scowsill.
Rifai complimented the Thai government's "transparency" after the attack, saying it "hid no information." He credited the fast response as being critical in the country's quick recovery. Mario Hardy, the CEO of PATA, added that feedback from his members pointed to a quick and strong recovery.
However, when the floor was opened for questions, Juergen Thomas Steinmetz, publisher of eTurboNews, complained that it took him three days to get any official comments from either the government or PATA. He also questioned why PATA closed its offices the next day.
Responding to his comments, Wattanavrangkul said her immediate concern was the wellbeing of tourists and making arrangements for any that had been injured, as well as ensuring there was contact with their families. She said in the immediate aftermath, there were numerous enquiries by people who had friends and family traveling in the country at the time. Hardy responded to the office closure by noting that its location is less than one kilometer from the blast, and his first priority was the well-being of staff and reassurance of his family. He noted that the attack took place in the evening; the next day, all staff worked from home. He said that PATA had successfully "responded" to dozens of media requests in the immediate aftermath.
At the same time Rifai told the press conference, "You need to balance what you go out to the media. You need to get out with the correct information."
Steinmetz said eTurboNews was trying to provide hourly updates, and to that point Rifai noted the importance of those impacted telling their story as quickly as possible.