Before 9/11, Americans were one of the main nationalities that traveled to Thailand on vacation or business. Since 9/11, as many Americans seem more reticent and afraid to travel overseas, the numbers coming to Thailand have fallen.
Add onto this Bangkok’s political unrest early in 2010,and its subsequent televised demonstrations, many Americans are now staying away.
Yet, while Americans stay home, the Chinese are coming in plane loads. What does this say about Americans? Is America a nation of people who are terrified of their own shadows? Do the Chinese have bigger balls, or is there something else going on?
Are The Chinese Braver Than The Americans? – I have lived in Thailand for more than eight years and, during that time, have noticed a huge difference in the number of Americans arriving in the country. Whereas, only eight years ago, I would see many American tourists all over the city, now it is more likely to be the Chinese who head to Bangkok on vacation.
In fact, now there are so many Chinese, in busy areas of Bangkok you sometimes hear Mandarin being spoken as much as Thai.
A Thai friend works for an American tour group that used to have at least seven groups of American tourists arriving in Bangkok every week. In the last three years, the number of groups has fallen so much that, in 2010, the company canceled all their tours coming to Thailand – because Americans just weren’t coming.
After speaking to many of his old American customers, my friend says most are afraid of traveling to Thailand due to political protests in the streets (where do they think we live? Mogadishu?) and terrorism (other than a tiny area in the south of Thailand, we don’t have terrorist attacks here).
My Thai friend who, like me, thinks he lives in one of the safest countries in the world just doesn’t get it. He’s now beginning to wish he had learned Chinese instead of English – he would be turning jobs down, if he had.
The Chinese, after all, can’t book to come to Thailand fast enough. So, why aren’t they afraid of traveling to Thailand and why are Americans?
Finances – Let’s face it, America’s economy is a bit of a disaster and it’s not getting much better. Americans are worried about spending money, particularly on international vacations, so rather than travel
to a place like Thailand they’ll take a vacation in the US instead.
China, on the other hand, has a booming economy with more Chinese joining the middle class every year. Part of being in the middle class is taking international vacations, so the Chinese are coming in droves to countries like Thailand, to see what other Asian countries have to offer.
Terrorism – As America is becoming a country that’s increasingly turning inward, with a government and a news media that’s terrifying its citizens about terrorism, thus creating an air of paranoia and fear, the Chinese government is opening up to new ideas. And so are its citizens.
While Americans are shoved like pliant cattle through the latest TSA screening system at US airports, putting themselves more at risk for developing cancer than they’ll ever be from terrorism, the Chinese go through normal security, like the rest of the world, and board planes in their thousands.
So many Chinese now are flying to Thailand, the Thai Tourism Authority is concentrating much of its marketing on China and other Asian countries, and not wasting its money on America.
While American news media harps on about ‘terrorism threats’ on just about every broadcast, Chinese media talks about its economy, jobs and what being in the middle class means – and, targeted at that middle class, travel shows are becoming huge in China.
It’s actually no wonder Americans are so frightened of ‘terrorists’, though as much as the US news media crams it down their throats on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. But, while they sit shuddering in their houses, too afraid to get on a plane to Thailand, the Chinese can’t wait to get out of their country and experience something new.
And before you say, “China wasn’t a target of terrorism” and that’s why they’re not afraid like Americans are, that’s not true either. There have been terrorist attacks in China by Muslim extremists. The Chinese just don’t live there lives by them.
But, even more important, most of the British grew up with IRA bombings and murders, as did I, and the UK recently had a massive terrorist attack in London, yet that didn’t stop the British from traveling. There’s boatloads of them in Thailand too.
Americans’ Ignorance of Other Countries Perpetrates Their Fear – Sadly, many Americans’ knowledge of other countries is quite limited and, in some cases, just plain wrong.
An American friend who just moved to Bangkok recently told me friends back in the US have already asked her “Do you have monkeys in your garden?” and “Do you live in a wooden hut on stilts?” Considering Bangkok is a major modern city of more than 13 million people and much more advanced than Washington DC, where she’s from, she thought this was hilarious.
While the education system in China isn’t superb, the Chinese do seem to be taught more about basic international geography, customs and cultures than Americans are taught in most American schools. So, if you spoke to a Chinese person about “monkeys in a Bangkok garden”, they’d just look at you like you were stupid.
But, where all this ignorance leads is to a belief America is safer than other countries (it’s not, in fact it’s often the reverse) and that Americans shouldn’t bother with something ‘foreign’. It might harm them.
Even when I moved to Bangkok years ago, an American friend who I thought well-educated asked me “Why are you moving there? It’s dangerous.” This from someone who lived in the middle of gang-riddled Los Angeles. Bangkok, dangerous?
So sadly, with the combined circumstances in America of a fear of terrorism, a poor economy, and an American ignorance of much of the rest of the world, Americans are likely to continue to stay home and the Chinese to travel even more.
A shame for America and Americans. As travel to countries like Thailand not only broadens your mind and teaches you something, it also spreads America’s influence overseas. A fact the Chinese, who’s tourist numbers to Thailand will likely increase in 2011 by 10%, are very well aware of.