BANGKOK – It's been a bad year for tourism in Thailand, and at first glance it looked like a new YouTube video was adding to the misery.
The video called "I Hate Thailand" drew more than 1 million views within days of being posted last week.
But it turned out the clip was produced by Thailand's tourism authority, using a strategy of reverse psychology to attract tourists after the country's image was battered by a military coup in May and the brutal murders of two British tourists on an idyllic beach in September.
The 5-minute video shows an angry British tourist on a beach. He introduces himself as James and says his bag was stolen: "I hate this place. I hate Thailand," he tells a handheld camera. After mouthing off to a policeman, he meets an attractive Thai woman and finds reasons to like Thailand. In the end, the unshaven, bare-chested foreigner cleans up, puts on clothes, befriends the locals and gets his bag back — wallet, passport and all.
Several Thai newspapers reported the video as a real news item last week, prompting the Tourism Authority of Thailand to issue a press release Monday saying it was behind what it called the "romantic-comedy short film."
"There's been much hype and speculation following the release of the I Hate Thailand video," TAT Governor Thawatchai Arunyik is quoted as saying. "The intention of this video is solely to depict the renowned Thai hospitality."
The tourism authority said it was inspired by research showing that "unbranded" advertisements tend to receive more interest than conventional commercials.
The video, which bears no indication of being funded by the Thai government, was posted on a YouTube account that also gave no clue of ties to officialdom.
The strategy is part of a massive campaign to restore Thailand's battered image overseas and revive tourism, which accounts for about 7 percent of the economy.
The tourism authority has forecast that tourist arrivals for 2014 will drop for the first time in years, after a record year in 2013 when 26.7 million visitors came to Thailand.
Online: Tourism Authority of Thailand's 'I Hate Thailand' video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54uzEouACYs