Thai airline’s sexy calendar too hot for the government

Thai airline’s sexy calendar too hot for the government

Maxim models strip down for the Nok Air month tracker. No stranger to controversy, the CEO explains why it's not at all sexist
Too sexy? Nok Air's chief executive says most of the airline's customers love the calendar.

Thai low-cost carrier Nok Air has released a sexy calendar featuring models from Maxim magazine

But not everyone in Thailand is comfortable seeing the female form displayed in such a fashion.  

According to Thai media, the Ministry of Culture's Permanent Secretary, Prisana Pongtatpitakkul, says the calendar demonstrates that some businesses refuse to stop using women's bodies as a marketing tool.

"They lack the sense of social and cultural responsibility and ignore social and cultural repercussions -- particularly female dignity," she was quoted by The Nation.

The calendar, issued as part of an online promotion, features models in different outfits posing around Nok Air planes, including a shot with 12 women in yellow bikinis -- the airline's signature color. 

“The airline business has always been seen as sexy," says Nok Air chief executive Patee Sarasin. Nok Air chief executive Patee Sarasin says the government's response to the calendar is unfortunate, but expected.

“Understanding the [Culture] Ministry, their reaction isn’t really a surprise, however, given what the public is exposed to on a daily basis, we believe that we have not crossed the line,” he tells CNN Travel.

“The airline business has always been seen as sexy globally, that is why our planes -- we believe they are well designed -- appropriately become the background of these models.” 

Unlike the Culture Ministry, it would seem some members of the public wouldn't mind marking the passage of days with Nok Air's help.

“Most customers love the calendar and definitely want to own one," he says. "As of today, the calendar is becoming a hard-to-find commodity, and the requests for copies keep coming from all walks of life."

More on CNN:  How one Thai budget carrier keeps its flight attendants young and hot

In spite of the verbal lashing, the Culture Ministry admitted the calendar isn't breaking any laws, therefore no action will be taken against Nok Air.

Thai Airways has a 49 percent stake in the airline, which is a joint venture between public and private investors. Thailand's Ministry of Finance owns 51 percent of Thai Airways, the country's flag carrier.  

Tackling Thailand's image issues 

Nok Air's Patee is known for his unconventional marketing tactics.

In 2011, he was in the news for confirming that the airline hires only young flight attendants on short contracts while replacing older cabin crew to rejuvenate brand image and appeal to passengers.  

"The idea of keeping our attendants young is because we believe young girls, being new at their profession, would be more passionate in serving our customers because their focus is more on their career," he says of the controversy.

"We also aim to keep the airline young to meet our brand positioning." 

Unlike some global airlines, Patee points out that Nok Air's calendar features professional models rather than airline crew members -- "Different professions entirely."

More on CNN: Ryanair busts out 2012 cabin girls calendar

“We believe that the pictures posted are not ugly," he says. "[This calendar provides an] opportunity for these girls to be exposed in a professional way with a leading company and not always limited to being just a sex symbol.” 

Thailand's Ministry of Culture says it's unfortunate that companies continue to use the female body as a marketing tool. But Prisana says such marketing tools contribute to foreigners' negative attitude toward Thai women, something all parties in Thai society need to lend a hand in fixing. 

The government official's comments come on the heels of a separate controversy involving a recent "Saturday Night Live" sketch.

The NBC program featured a mock TV commercial for language software company Rosetta Stone that implied the only reason people learn Thai is to come to Thailand to engage in prostitution. 

The Thai government reportedly complained to the U.S. embassy in Bangkok that the clip was offensive, while internet forums and comments boards filled with opposing views.

Some feel it's time the world stops associating Thailand with the same old sexual stereotypes, while others focus on the hypocrisy of Thailand's outrage, given prostitution is hardly hidden from public view.  

What are your thoughts on the government's reaction to the calendar and SNL sketch? Share your views in the comments box below.