Country Portrait by Toni Duangkong Aroyosmith
MISS UNIVERSE IN THAILAND
The world-renowned beauty pageant will be hosted by Bangkok for the third time
It was recently announced by the Miss Universe Organization that the 67th edition of the pageant in December will be held in Thailand for the third time. TPN 2018 Co, Ltd, will be the host of the spectacular international event “Miss Universe 2018”. Somchai Cheewasutthanon, CEO of TPN, and Paula M. Shugart, current president of the Miss Universe Organization, confirmed that Thailand will be the host of Miss Universe this year at a press conference at the Dusit Thani Hotel, where 95 contestants from every corner of the world will be staying throughout the competition.
Since 1954, the Land of Smiles has been sending its beauty queens to participate in the Miss Universe pageant, a genre of entertainment that originated in Western popular culture. In 1992, the nation made history by becoming the first Southeast Asian host country of the 41st edition. Apart from showing the world that it embraces feminine beauty, it was questioned what value such an event has. It is attractive to many sectors, in fact, from the state to private spheres.
In this exclusive report, Elite+ points out the soft power behind beauty pageants and their significance in terms of economic opportunities for local businesses.
One factor taken into account when gauging a country’s pageantry interest is its level of economic freedom. Research conducted by Lawson & Ross Management Ltd used the number of semi-finalist representatives of the Miss Universe pageant as a measure for interest and success as well as economic freedom. The findings imply that host countries offer more opportunities for women and join the competitions to gain social and economic status as well as international recognition.
Throughout the history of Thailand, the staging of Miss Universe has served as a tool to cool political tensions or as a stimulus package to boost confidence among foreign investors, assuring them the country is back to normal following a period of turmoil. For its 41st edition, the beauty pageant brought the limelight to Thailand amid the political crisis that culminated on May 17, the Black May protests against the government of General Suchinda Kraprayoon. Likewise, some five months after the 2004 tsunami, which significantly slowed international travel, particular to the affected coastlines of the Andaman Sea, Bangkok decided to host the Miss Universe Pageant because the economic repercussions were greater than expected.
According to the vice-president of Azumano Travel, William Harmon, in a UPI interview in 2005, the pageant featuring beauties from more than 80 countries was held in the capital in part to help bring tourism back to the Kingdom.
“We know that bringing the pageant to Thailand is one of many steps in rebuilding our economy and boosting tourism,” said Thailand's then minister of sports and tourism Sontaya Kunplome in February, 2005. “There is no better time for our people and our economy to bring this worldwide event to our country.”
Thailand has used Miss Universe to gain “soft power” and boost the economy. The Philippines is another Southeast Asian country that enjoys the power of beauty pageants. The archipelago hosted the 65th edition of Miss Universe in January last year to promote its tourism industry. The Philippines was projected around the world through social media and the personal accounts of the contestants as they visited tourism destinations as part of the activities for the pageant. This plan was in line with the aim of the Department of Tourism (DOT) to surpass the previous year's tourist arrivals target.
“When the Miss Universe Organization reached out to us to bring in the girls, we specifically requested candidates from our emerging destinations, such as Russia, the Netherlands, India, Italy, Spain and Canada, and contestants from key markets such as the United States, South Korea, Malaysia, China, Great Britain and Singapore,” Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo said in an interview to local press. During the pageant, six Philippine destinations were assured of getting worldwide exposure: Davao City, hometown of President Rodrigo Duterte; Cagayan de Oro, hometown of Miss Universe 2016 Pia Wurtzbach; Boracay and Cebu in the Visayas; and Vigan and Palawan.
A similar strategy is expected to be implemented this year for Thailand, according to Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat, who joined a press conference at the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre in July. Unlike the two previous hostings in 1992 and 2005, the 67th edition of Miss Universe, to be held at the Muang Thong Thani complex on Dec 17, aims to promote intriguing provinces of Thailand that are yet to be discovered by international tourists yet offer rich culture, gastronomy and breathtaking natural beauty. These venues for Miss Universe participants to visit may range from small northern and northeastern provinces to the pristine beaches of the south.
Responding to the official announcement of the pageant, many entrepreneurs especially in the hotel and hospitality industry have expressed interest and excitement about the business opportunities knocking on their door.
“Hosting the Miss Universe pageant is a golden opportunity for the hospitality sector, which will benefit from the large media presence,” said Waraporn Atirak, assistant managing director of Devasom Khao Lak Beach Resort & Villas. “They will experience the genuine hospitality that Thailand is famous for. It is also an explicit way to show the world the beauty and culture of our country. That’s invaluable marketing. For my hotel, all the staff and the executive board are prepared to welcome the future tourists. We are ready to open their eyes with the authentic local lifestyle and immersive experiences.”
Ms Atirak added that Miss Universe 2018 in December will also mark the grand opening of her hotel in Khao Lak, Phang Nga Province. Meanwhile, Tipakorn Supalak Jacobsen, owner of Riverhouse Hotel (The Teak House) in Mae Sariang district of Mae Hong Son Province, herself a young entrepreneur, is very hopeful after hearing the news.
“I believe that the hosting of Miss Universe 2018 in Thailand is economically significant to my business,” said Mrs Jacobsen. “Beauty pageant activities set to be filmed for the promotional campaign of Thai tourism could potentially showcase the picturesque scenery in the northern region. In my view, this is an opportunity and I plan to improve our services and enhance my staff’s communication skills in English.”
Another highlight of the 67th edition of Miss Universe is the swimwear to be donned by the contestants on stage. The collection will be exclusively designed and sponsored by her Royal Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana of Thailand, who is at the helm of her own brand, Sirivannavari. The brand is a game changer when it comes to displaying Thai designs, combining traditional Thai art with current global fashion trends.
According to the tentative programme released by the organizers, the 95 contestants will be arriving in Thailand on December 2, then will continue to explore and participate in many pageant and tourism activities until the coronation round of Miss Universe 2018, scheduled to air live worldwide at 7am (local time) from Impact Arena Muang Thong Thani on December 17.