New year revelry returns to Thai streets as tourism rebounds
BANGKOK, April 13 (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of revellers, including hordes of foreign tourists sporting floral shirts and plastic water guns, descended on the streets of Bangkok on Thursday for the biggest traditional new year gathering since the pandemic.
Festivities for Songkran, a much-loved Thai festival sometimes described as the world’s largest water fight, had been muted or barred for the past few years due mainly to Covid-19 restrictions.
But as travellers now return to Thailand, the key tourism sector is helping revive Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.
Revellers – many of them soaked to the skin – walked through a half-kilometre (0.3 miles) long stretch in Bangkok’s tourist hub of Khaosan Road, indiscriminately firing water guns and dancing to music blaring from kerbside establishments.
“It’s a multiple-day, city-wide water fight,” said Jared Baumeister, a lawyer from New York, who flew into Bangkok this week to join the festivities.
“I don’t know where else in the world you’d get this,” he said while holding a multi-coloured water gun and sipping a beer.
Thailand beat its target of 6 million tourist arrivals in the first quarter, recording 6.15 million visitors between January and late March, according to government data.
At least 30 million tourists are expected to visit Thailand this year and spend 1.5 trillion baht ($43.74 billion), according to projections by the Tourism Council, an industry body.
Businesses expect tourist numbers to rise as summer approaches.
“Income is skyrocketing,” said Khanti Wichan, manager of ReRe Restaurant, who has worked on Khaosan Road for almost a decade.
A strong recovery in the tourism sector will a key driver for Thailand’s economy – which has bounced back slower from the pandemic than other Southeast Asian nations – to grow by as much as 4% this year, the fastest rate in five years.
By Devjyot Ghoshal
(Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor)