At the beginning of the year, I along with many other commentators, called for a calm, uneventful year in Thailand. After the upheaval of the past couple of years, when political protests had a devastating affect on the country’s tourism-reliant economy, people across the country prayed for calm. When the national elections passed without trouble, hopes were raised for a return to normality. But now, Mother Nature has stepped in to pour further misery on the embattled country, with severe floods hitting swathes of the country.
In Bangkok right now, there is an atmosphere of nervous expectation. The Chao Praya River is rising seemingly by the day, and is currently lapping that the sandbags being deployed along the banks. Several major hotels and attractions along the river, including the area near famed Grand Palace, are manning the barricades, preparing for a further rise in water levels.
The key dates for Bangkok are believed to be 16-18 October, when levels are expected to be at their highest. For a low-lying city built on a network of canals, there is potential for thousands of homes and business to be inundated and for transport networks in the city to be brought to a halt. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to this; as well as distributing more than 100,000 sandbags, authorities in the city are reported to be deploying around 1,000 boats near the Chao Phraya estuary in an effort to push water into the sea.
Only time will tell if these measures are enough. Flooding is Thailand’s southern provinces earlier this year is estimated to have cost the tourism industry up to THB2.5 billion (US$79 million) in lost revenues, and the impact of floods on the capital is likely to be even more severe.
One thing we do know is that Thailand will bounce back quickly. The Thai tourism rebound is now famous; as floodwaters recede, tourist arrivals levels will return to normal faster than river levels. Hopefully this will allow for another bumper high season. But with any luck the floods will pass by without major damage or disruption. Thailand deserves an uneventful year, let’s hope it gets one.