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The passing of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej can present a challenge for business travellers to Bangkok and Thailand.
The Thai monarch ruled for 70 years, and was deeply loved by the Thai people in a way many Westerners can find hard to understand.
The public outpouring of grief leads into what has been declared as a full year of mourning for Thais.
It’s hard to predict exactly what shape this mourning will take and how it will flow onto the rest of Thai culture and business practices. But on the whole, be prepared for a subdued and even funereal mood in the ‘land of smiles’.
“It’s important to remember that the things to be aware here in terms of etiquette and customs in this unique time are often ‘bottom-up’ not ‘top-down’,” Grahame Lynch, Bangkok-based publisher of Communications Day, suggests to Australian Business Traveller. “They are about the culture not the law.”
“The situation is moving here very quickly so watch what is being said on Twitter, Facebook and the relevant newspaper websites, especially in their wire sections. Just relax and do your business. Thailand needs normality and business as usual during a time of grief.”
If you’re travelling to Thailand in the coming months, here are some practical tips on what to expect and how to deal with this situation.
“Expats and foreign travellers should respect the feelings and sensitivities of the Thais at this time” advises Maevadi Rosenfeldt from the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
As always, indeed more than ever, visitors need to be respectful of the Thai people as they deal with their shared grief.
Also, be mindful of your own behaviour – even a lively, light-hearted manner could be frowned upon. If in doubt, dial it down.
What to wear
“Many Thai people will be wearing black or white clothing as a sign of mourning. While this is not required of visitors but if possible, they should wear sombre and respectful clothing when in public” Rosenfeldt suggests.
“In terms of dress, the rule is muted colours” Lynch concurs.
“A dark blue or grey suit will be OK but black or white is best. Thais cut slack for foreigners on this front, so as long as you don't wear anything stupid you should be okay.”
Impact on business dinners and launches
Planning a launch of your new product or service, or a dinner to celebrate a new business partnership in Thailand? Tone it down, Lynch suggests, and avoid anything which could be construed as a ‘lively celebration’.
“Business meetings or even somber dinners will still be okay” Lynch suggests, alongside similarly subdued business conferences, “but not a garish product launch with canned music and lights. Activities such as DJ and band performances or anything amplified are a no-no.”
By Government decree, entertainment in Thailand must be ‘toned down’ for a month.
While the decision rests with the owners of pubs, bars and nightclubs, many have already closed their doors during the evening.
However, Lynch tells Australian Business Traveller that “foreign-oriented hotels will operate normally with full service excepting entertainment.”
If it feels appropriate, offer your condolences on the passing of the King – but “discussion of issues around the succession and the politics of the situation are taboo,” Lynch warns.
“Do not embarrass Thais by asking them too many questions about it. Also take care not to over-empathise. The Thai King is not your king and ostentatious displays of sympathy look fake and trivialise what is something that only Thais can really innately understand.”
Travellers can keep up to date with advice from the Tourism Authority of Thailand website at www.tatnews.org.