A Songkran downer
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A Songkran downer

Songkran festivities across Thailand continue to draw in both local and foreign tourists, all eager to partake in the joyful water-splashing celebration.

However, the government's handling of this year's festival paints a rather different picture -- one of confusion and constant miscommunication, which reflects a fundamental flaw with the administration.

The government, especially the Tourism Authority of Thailand, must learn from this year's failures to improve the organisation and management of future celebrations and festivals. At the heart of this confusion is the government's decision to announce a 21-day "Maha Songkran World Water Festival" back in February, and what actually transpired during the period.

The government promised to hold a series of Songkran celebrations nationwide over the course of three weeks, as opposed to the usual three days of water splashing. The move, it said, was meant to celebrate Unesco's decision to recognise the annual festival as an Intangible Cultural Heritage item.

Under the plan announced in February, Songkran celebrations would be held in major tourism hubs, such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Pattaya from April 1-21, as opposed to April 13-15.

However, the announcement left out crucial details, including where and when the celebrations would be held, resulting in unmet expectations and disappointed tourists.

Many visitors, especially those who came from abroad, misunderstood the announcement to mean that water fights would be a daily occurrence nationwide for the entire 21-day period, commencing on April 1. A notable incident involved a bewildered Chinese tourist, who ventured outside a popular Bangkok shopping mall armed with a water gun only to discover no one else was partaking in water fights. His clip went viral on both Chinese and Thai social media platforms.

The government had envisioned the Maha Songkran World Water Festival to be a multi-day celebration featuring various activities -- not just water fights -- curated by provinces across the country.

These were supposed to be highlighted on the TAT's tourism calendar, with the aim of attracting tourists. However, this vision remained a concept, as it lacked a clear action plan and implementation. The government's eagerness to promote the festival for public relations purposes clearly exceeded its ability to come up with a coherent plan.

As a result, this year's 21-day Maha Songkran World Water Festival is nothing but the same as previous years, with water-centred activities concentrated between April 13-15, and in subsequent weeks in select areas such as Chon Buri and Phra Pradaeng in Samut Prakan, where Songkran festivities traditionally occur later than in other regions. Beyond these events, there is uncertainty regarding any other activities occurring elsewhere.

This confusion highlights the government's inability to properly execute its policies, which can be seen in other programmes, such as its flagship digital wallet cash handout.

Such instances reflect a fundamental flaw of this administration -- that is, the penchant for rhetoric without substantive action. This not only breeds confusion among tourists and businesses, but also erodes confidence and trust in the government and the nation as a whole. Effective PR is essential, but it must be grounded in reality, supported by substantive plans and transparency.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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