Posts Tagged ‘marketing

ho ho ho, to santa’s place we go: the spectacle of turning snow into euros

How does a sparsely populated, snowy, and remote area in Finland become Santa’s retreat, drawing tourists eager to spot Santa and his abode?

Organization Science has an article about Enontekiö’s transformation into a tourist destination.  Here’s the intriguing abstract about how to realize a myth via marketing:

The Conversation blog features co-author ‘s general audience-friendly preview of the article.

Happy holidays, everyone!  Wishing you all happiness and health.

Written by katherinechen

December 25, 2018 at 1:11 am

Posted in culture, social construction

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notes and fieldnotes on cultural wealth

I do realize that sociologists are not necessarily trained in the history of the world and its regions, so before offering some scraps from my fieldnotes on how cultural wealth manifests itself in the marketplace, I will provide some background on Thailand and its history of impression management.

Thailand is among the medium-sized countries in Southeast Asia whose name means “land of the free.”  Nearly a tenth of the country’s labor force works in the travel and tourism sector, which generates up to 7 percent of the country’s GDP, exceeds all other sectors in export earnings, and represents the largest contribution to GDP compared with other countries in the region.  The 2007 report of the Economist Intelligence Unit notes that Thailand’s travel and tourism sector accounts for about “27% of the regional market and 1.5% of the world market.”  In the late 1970s, Thailand’s fourth National Economic and Social Development Plan (1977-1981) officially recognized tourism development as critical for the country’s economic development,[1] and the eighties and nineties represented a golden age for Thailand’s tourism boom, heralding the 1990s when Thailand registered the highest economic growth rates in the world.

The ascent of Thailand to the number one tourism spot did not result from “natural” conditions.  Instead, the character and nature of the country had to be cultivated.  Its cultivation depends on the accumulated, contingent encounters that the country’s official and unofficial representatives have had with other country representatives higher in international status.  These encounters have had their own manifest goals that did not always recognize or fully anticipate how their realization would affect the country’s attractiveness for outsiders.  For example, the Thai historian Thongchai argues that Thailand’s political leadership emphasized the country’s cultural as well as its political coherence as a means of protecting its territorial sovereignty.  When the French began establishing protectorates where large populations of Laos people settled, they began to eye the northeast of Thailand where there are now more people of Lao descent than there are Lao in Laos.  Thai diplomacy emphasized the cultural coherence of its northeastern territories with the rest of Thailand’s political body.  This emphasis on defining the cultural and geographic boundaries of the country, and the pressure of having western colonial powers pressing against the northeastern, northwestern, and southern borders had clear political aims, but the latent function was the defining of the national character of Thailand.  The Thai government consolidated a cultural reputation for being a kingdom whose cultural traditions had not been interrupted or destroyed by colonial incursions.

The political goals of remaining free from colonization and of obtaining the respect of world powers such as the United States have led to image outcomes the country’s leadership did not intend, namely as a place for no-holds-barred fun, sex, and sun.  As the United States military established bases in Thailand during the conflicts in Vietnam and in Indo-China, Thailand’s reputation flourished as a perfect getaway for rest, relaxation, and commercial sex.  Indeed, the US military treaty with Thailand designated it as an official site for US soldiers to enjoy “Rest and Recreation” in the 1960s and 70s (Enloe 1989; Nuttavuthisit 2009; Truong 1990).  When these soldiers returned home, they carried with them fantastic tales of the beaches of Pattaya and the brothels of Bangkok mixed with the wonders of temples, palaces, and exotic marketplaces.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the majority of tourists to Thailand are single men or that weekend flights from more repressive countries such as Singapore are full of men taking a weekend escape to Bangkok, some dressed in their designer jeans and tightly fitting tops, wheeling a carry-on sufficient for the task at hand.  The nightlife does not equal commercial sex, but the trade is such that newspaper editorials have lamented that Thailand gets too much press for sex and nightlife but not enough for its history, food, temples, culture, and natural beauty.

According to marketing specialist Krittinee Nuttavuthisit working on the Branding Thailand Project (The Branding Thailand Project was initiated in 2001 by the Government of Thailand in cooperation with the Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University), the commercial sex trade has emerged as a blot on the nation’s image in recent consumer surveys.  Nuttavuthisit highlights some of these negative perceptions based on thirty in-depth interviews in the United States and on one hundred and twenty online surveys.  Some of the online questions include: “What is the first country that comes to mind when thinking about ‘silk?”; “What are the first words that come to mind when thinking of Thailand?”; “Which three words describe Thai products?”  Among the responses to these queries, commercial sex work, the poor, and poverty stood on the negative side of the ledge and the exoticism of the country as well as the friendliness of its people stood on the positive side.  Nuttavuthisit argues that people who have never been to Thailand had bad impressions of the country based on television programs and magazine articles about Thailand’s commercial sex trade and child prostitution.  With an estimated two to three hundred thousand sex workers in Thailand according to the United States Department of State Human Rights Report (2007), and with reports in The Economist stating “throw a stone in Bangkok, and the chances are you will hit a gambler or a brothel goer” as well as depictions of the sex industry in a Christina Aguilera music video and in the “Bridget Jones’ Diary: The Edge of Reason” movie (Nuttavuthisit 2009), such negative perceptions present themselves as easily recognizable and quickly associated characteristics of Thailand;  “The Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture (1993) once referred to Bangkok as ‘The capital of Thailand, a place often associated with prostitution’” (quoted in Nuttavuthisit 2009: 5).

The Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Department of Export Promotion have focused considerable energies on changing Bangkok to be a place associated with culture, heritage, fashion, and high-quality tourism.  Thai food is a cultural resource that enables the government to promote Thailand as a distinguished “Kitchen to the World”; Thai textiles and handcrafted jewelry, “Land of Fashion”; Thai artisans concentrated in the Chiang Mai Province, “City of Handicrafts”

Scraps from an Ethnographer’s Notebook

Here are some observations from three years ago a the Bangkok International Gifts (BIG) Show:

  • The physical layout of the fair leaves no doubt that there is a “charity” display of the One Tambon One Product (OTOP) goods beside the food court and there is the high-end display with the award winning designs at the polar opposite of the hall away from the food court.  At the heart of the hall is the officially sanctioned art where the placards provide the categorical identities for Thai art forms.
  • Just behind the Bangkok International Housewares (BIH) exhibit is the 13th National Ceramics Exhibition.  The national ceramics competition is the official cultural institution with non-monetary motives and it is juxtaposed with a display of the top house-wares in a museum like arrangement.  But placards on the museum exhibit are in Thai whereas those for the BIH showcase are in English.  This may create greater distance, barriers to entry for outsiders who are the English speakers.  This increases the authority of the cultural certifying institution’s display, perhaps.  [Fieldnotes 20 April 2007, Impact Center, Thailand]

Last week in Chiang Mai I spoke to some exporters who participated in that trade show three years ago. One informant talked about the difficulty of maintaining Thailand’s stature as an advanced country with unique cultural offerings, especially with the rise of China, Vietnam, and other sites with much lower costs or production. (This is complicated by the fact that a number of buyers are interested in “Asian” rather than in Thai-specific cultural motifs.) The only way that these exporters can survive is by moving up in the value chain and cultivating the symbolic value of their goods. They find themselves subject to the actions of the nation-state and other actors who promote different narratives about what Thailand and its people have to offer. Even the trade show hosted in Thailand by the Thais has run into trouble, according to some of the exporters I visited, because the government initiative to promote small village enterprises has started to contaminate the high-end exporters who compete on design and quality rather than on sympathy and price. I’m still writing up these notes about how these exporters and how the Department of Industrial Promotion use “Thainess” to increase the value of their products. These notes and others scraps are on their way.

[1] (“History of Thailand’s National Tourist Office,”, accessed June 10, 2007.

Written by fredthesociologist

March 6, 2010 at 7:50 am