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Thailand ready for more spending as New Year's festival regains its splash

Tourism and retail businesses are bullish for first Songkran after mourning of late king

Thailand's three-day Songkran holiday runs through Sunday, while many companies and government offices are closed through Monday.   © Reuters

BANGKOK -- More tourism, more spending and more water splashing festivities are expected as the traditional Thai New Year holiday begins Friday, with the country's celebrated Songkran festival returning to normal after a yearlong mourning for the late king that ended in October.

Bangkok's Khaosan Road, the famous backpacker mecca also known for the massive water-gun fight that goes on throughout the three-day holiday, will hold its annual beauty pageant and dance events while restaurants and bars play loud music to woo revelers -- all activities that were banned last year.

"Everything will be back to normal," said Piyabutr Jivaramonaikul, chairman of the Khaosan Road Business Association. He anticipates better business compared with the previous year, when many locals and tourists stayed away due to the country's muted mood following the 2016 death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Other parts of the capital also expect more celebrations this year. A foam party will be held in front of the Central World shopping complex, boasting "fun and louder" music than a year before. About 187,000 people are expected to turn up daily, 7% more than last year.

The Siam Paragon mall, expecting daily traffic of 250,000 customers, is banking on the popularity of a periodical soap opera as well as promotions for those who come in traditional Thai costumes.

The country's six major airports, including Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang, project total traffic of 3.01 million passengers and 17,550 flights during the April 11-17 period, up 12% and 14%, respectively, from the previous year.

With April being the hottest time of the year in Thailand, people splashing water on each other is regarded as a New Year's blessing.   © Reuters

The tourism ministry expects that Thais traveling domestically will spend 19.82 billion baht ($637 million) from April 12 to April 16, up 18%, while international visitors will boost their spending by 21% to 9.37 billion baht.

The three-day Songkran holiday runs through Sunday, while many companies and government offices are closed through Monday thanks to an extra holiday declared by the ruling military junta in February.

Authorities are bracing for wilder celebrations and promoting alcohol-free campaigns. Such drinking will be prohibited in public areas, for example Khaosan Road. Seven-Eleven stores in some of those areas have been asked to refrain from selling alcohol during the three days. Alcohol consumption will be allowed only inside bars and restaurants.

Sexy attire remains banned, as in previous years, in an effort to reduce sexual harassment as the holiday season is infamous for high crime rates.

Though entertainment spending appears likely to rise, some say the increase may be negligible as overall consumption remains weak due to lingering household debt.

Bangkok-based travel agency Noom Sao Tours reported an increase in air ticket sales for this Songkran season, but it saw no recovery to the level of two years ago.

"The mood has changed from last year's mourning period, but many people are still facing financial difficulties," said Wattanayut Areelertrat, who heads sales and marketing.

With April being the hottest time of the year in Thailand, people splashing water on each other is regarded as a New Year's blessing. Traditionally, young people pour water onto the palms of their elders to show respect.

Water splashing and traditional merit-making events are held throughout the kingdom. Neighboring countries, namely Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, also celebrate their traditional new year around the same period.

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