Thailand is betting on a dramatic ‘boy love’ tourism boom

Thailand has launched a campaign to attract international tourists, and particularly Japanese travellers, using the popularity of local productions of “boy love”, or BL dramas, as a draw card.

During the “Mini Thai Festival” held in Osaka in early June, two stalls were set up by video distributors in the “Thai BL” corner, attracting crowds of people away from street food stalls and an exhibition of the combat sport Muay Thai. The Tourism Authority of Thailand, or TAT, has distributed brochures about Thai BL.

Known in Thailand as “Y series” – a reference to Japanese “yaoi” fiction which features homoerotic relationships between male characters and inspired BL dramas – the productions were once viewed with prejudice but have been accepted due of their potential to function as a cultural export.

Fans gather outside a booth promoting Thai dramas “boys’ love” at the “Mini Thai Festival” in Osaka on June 5, 2022. (Kyodo)

“My heart races when I see these scenes of handsome actors falling in love with each other,” said Keiko Kobayashi, 58, who works in Osaka and met friends to drink Thai beer at the festival. .

She became a fan of the genre about a year ago. Because of the Thai BL dramas, “I started to learn more about Thailand, which previously didn’t interest me,” she said.

The Thai BL boom took off in Japan about two years ago through word of mouth, with major works creating buzz on social media. Maya Murai, 30, who works for the TAT Osaka branch, recognized the tourism potential and opened the office’s Thai BL Twitter account, which now has more than 20,000 followers.

She saw the opportunity to promote tours to Thailand after discovering that 80% of Japanese Thai BL fans had never been to the Southeast Asian country.

Fans take photos of billboards for Thai dramas “boys’ love” at a booth at the “Mini Thai Festival” in Osaka on June 5, 2022. (Kyodo)

Thailand lifted post-entry quarantine requirements and most other COVID-19 restrictions on travelers to the country from June.

When TAT’s Osaka office solicited eight participants for a trial tour, partially paid for by the office, to BL theater sites in Thailand in early June, slots were immediately taken – a limited but encouraging indication of the interest of Japanese tourists for a holiday structured around Thai BL.

Chanyuth Sawetsuwan, 51, the bureau chief, said the boom seen in Japan has also spread to other Asian countries and South America, prompting the Thai government to start positioning BL dramas in as strategic content to promote tourism.

Murai, who is also a fan of Thai BL, said, “I sometimes feel jealous of actresses when I watch love stories between men and women. But a lot of women are attracted to BL dramas because they can just supporting beautiful men.”

Chanyuth Sawetsuwan (R), head of the Osaka branch of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, with Maya Murai (L), who works for the office, have fun at the “Mini Thai Festival” in Osaka on June 5, 2022 .(Kyodo)

Indeed, the candid emotional subject matter and smiles seen in Thai BL dramas seem to have captured the hearts of many Japanese fans.

“In the 1980s, BL’s work was in Japan rather than Thailand,” said Rujirat Ishikawa, a 38-year-old Thai assistant professor at Aoyama Gakuin University who specializes in Japanese manga culture. Fan clubs for Japanese BL works were formed in Thailand in the 1990s.

But explicit sexual descriptions in self-published works became an issue leading to Thai government intervention, and BL became taboo in the early 2000s.

A staff member displays products related to the Thai drama “boys’ love” at the “Mini Thai Festival” in Osaka on June 5, 2022. (Kyodo)

A scene of two men kissing in a 2007 Thai film prompted a torrent of criticism, Ishikawa said. Around the same time, however, some people began to accept homosexuality more in Thai society. “Thai society has changed, paving the way for a series of Thai BL drama productions,” she said.

BL dramas feature scenes in which boys come out to family members or show similar acts of courage, giving viewers a sense of their internal struggles, Ishikawa said.

Thai BL dramas often end with happy endings, according to Ishikawa, creating “positive feelings to eliminate biased opinions against sexual minorities”.

Related coverage:

FEATURE: Thailand brings “boy love” back to Japan with local dramas

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