Protests scare tourists away
By Suchat Sritama
The Nation

A huge number of tourists, particularly from Asia, have cancelled trips to Thailand in the wake of the increased political confrontation, with Malaysia issuing a travel warning yesterday and Indonesia planning a similar move.

Apichart Sankary, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA), said tourists from Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia had cancelled their plans to visit due to their fear of violence. Most Asian countries are sensitive to political uncertainty and cancellations are expected to increase in the next 10 days, he added.

"Malaysia yesterday issued a travel warning about safety while visiting Bangkok, and now the Indonesian government is considering giving the same advice," said Apichart. Apichart said if political issues were not solved very soon, the Japanese market, which is the biggest market, could be hit as tour operators in Japan could offer their clients other destinations.

ATTA met its inbound operator members days ago and is still worried about the situation. The association is demanding all parties seek a solution as soon as possible. If unable to do so, the tourism industry would be damaged. "We have witnessed the pain many times, so we don't want to see it again," he said.

However, tourists from emerging countries like the Middle East and Russia are growing at a rapid rate.

ATTA also speculated that tourists from Europe as well as Australia would revise their plans to visit Thailand, which is now in the low season for Western markets.

According to Apichart, domestic travel operators are suffering because local people have stopped travelling due to concerns about the political situation as well as the higher cost of transport.

Gerd Steeb, president of Centara Hotels and Resorts, said the chain had seen bookings from individual tourists rise. But he admitted a number of people who planned to attend the 91st Lions Club International Convention in Bangkok late this month had not yet confirmed their bookings.

Other official hotels for the event have also not received confirmations from many delegates.

While the inbound market is falling, the number of domestic travellers is also expected to drop.

Maiyarat Pirayakoset, president of the Association of Domestic Travel, said local people were cancelling vacation plans because the cost of travel had increased by more than 15 per cent.

"Higher oil prices and political uncertainty are forcing people to save money and stay at home. This is not good for the travel business," said Maiyarat.