Tourism in Thailand has been on a downturn lately, and a recent YouTube video looked as if it was further undermining the industry within the East Asian nation. But the viral video turned out to be a novel approach by the Thailand Tourism Authority to change the perception of the country in the minds of travellers.

 I Hate Thailand

The video in question achieved more than 1 million views within a few days of being posted just last week, and was notable for its striking title of “I Hate Thailand”. Certainly this is not the sort of thing that one would expect to associate with destination marketing, but there was a very clear ethos behind the YouTube video.

Thailand has suffered a difficult period in which the country has suffered from a military coup in May, and the brutal murders of two British tourists on an idyllic beach in September. This has naturally damaged the impression that many Western people in particular have of the nation, and so drastic marketing was required to replenish the image of the nation in the collective public mind.

The viral video in question begins with an angry British tourist on the beach, expressing his dismay at having his bag stolen. But as the video develops, we see the character meet an attractive Thai woman, experience some of the natural beauty of the nation, and eventually befriend locals and begin to enjoy the Thailand experience. Eventually he also has his bag, wallet and passport returned.

Media sensation

Although the video seems far too slickly and professionally produced to have emanated from a mere tourist, this YouTube sensation certainly fooled the media last week. Several newspapers based in Thailand reported on the video as if it was a genuine news item, and this eventually prompted the Tourism Authority of Thailand to issue a press release accepting that it was the maker of the video.

This is the sort of publicity for the video that the Thailand DMO could surely only have dreamed of when it originally conceived of the idea, and overall it has been a significantly successful strategy for the Thailand Tourism Authority. According to media quotations attributed to the organisation, the video was inspired by research which indicated that unbranded advertisements receive far more interest and attention than conventional commercials.

Both the video itself and the YouTube channel to which it was posted gave no indication of being tied to official authorities. The video was very much intended to look like one posted by a member of the public, and has apparently been very successful in its aims.

Tourism is a significant part of the Thai economy, accounting for around 7 percent of the overall GDP of the nation. The tourism authority created this video to respond to its own predictions that tourist arrivals for 2014 will drop for the first time in years, after a record year in 2013 when 26.7 million visitors came to Thailand.

Aside from being a quirky form of advertising, the Thailand marketing authority had also given the specific content of the video a fair bit of consideration. It is clear that the Thailand Tourism Authority considered the tone of the video to be essential in order to counteract claims that crime in the Far East nation is rife and a serious barrier to enjoyable tourist trips within the nation.

This has been the second recent novel attempt by the Thailand Tourism Authority to showcase the nation in a positive light in contrast to negative media coverage. In June this year, the organisation arranged for a group of travel bloggers to spend time in the Thai capital in order to showcase the idea that Bangkok and Thailand is open for tourism business. This was deemed necessary due to the Western media perception of the aforementioned military coup.

The value of social and video marketing

What the “I Hate Thailand” video demonstrates is that using social and video channels to connect with tourists is becoming a tried and trusted technique. Both recent attempts by the Thailand Tourism Authority to effectively rebrand the nation have focused on producing video content which comes across as being particularly authentic; a common theme in contemporary digital marketing for tourist destinations.

However, it should also be stated in mitigation this can be considered a controversial campaign. This is not merely because the video at first glance appears to have negative connotations, it is also due to the fact that the actual safety of tourists at this point in time in Thailand is debatable. Naturally the Thailand tourist authority wishes to assure visitors that I have nothing to be concerned about, but the reality is that their attempts to reassure people may not be particularly effective at present.

But that doesn’t mean that other DMOs can’t learn some valuable lessons from the campaign.

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