Thailand’s tourism industry, which took a short term hit earlier this month after street violence and the government’s declaration of an emergency decree, is looking to recover lost ground. Industry representatives have been trying to get the message out to the international travelling public that it is safe to travel to Thailand.
Tourists on the beach on Phi Phi Island, Thailand
The Thai tourism industry hopes to recover after suffering a serious jolt in September when Thailand’s sometimes boisterous politics led to street clashes and a government declaration of a state of emergency.
The 17 billion dollar a year industry was initially badly affected by anti-government protests that led to the occupation of the main administration building of the government on August 26.
Tourism groups said arrivals at Bangkok international airport fell by 30 percent as news of the clashes were aired on global TV and media, and cost around 11 million dollars a day in lost revenue. Major meetings and incentive groups quickly cancelled. Hotels saw occupancy rates plunge 40 per cent within days.
Anti-government protests that closed several provincial airports also had a downbeat impact on domestic and international travel.
Sign of improvement
Bob James, a travel industry consultant and past chairman of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Thailand chapter, says the outlook for tourism appears to have calmed with the recent appointment of a new government in the past week. The new Prime Minister, Somchai Wongsawat, has promised to ease political tensions following the more combative style of his predecessor, Samak Sundaravej. Samak was forced to step aside by the courts.
“Things are settling down again. There’s still probably some nervousness but it is a question of getting business back to normal. I think the industry has been trying to put out messages to say actually there were agitations, which happen in other countries around the world but that’s really gone away,” says James.
But James, a veteran of the tourism industry in Asia, says once news of Thailand’s troubled political climate moved off the front pages and screens many travellers would soon return.
John Koldowski, a spokesman for the PATA, says a part of the problem was that the protests temporarily closed airports, disrupting flights. “That (the closures) would leave a bitter taste in the mouth of those directly affected. And that would spread around the globe pretty quickly as connected as we are – so yes that would be a negative perception.”
Drop caused by unrest
The depth of the downturn occurred after the government of former Prime Minister Samak declared the state of emergency in Bangkok on September 2 after a night of violence that left one person dead and several injured. Fears had been held the military may have moved to evict thousands of anti-government protestors squatting in the grounds of government house.
The state of emergency by the government immediately led foreign embassies to raise warnings to nationals looking to travel to Thailand. But tensions soon eased after the Thai Army chief said troops would only be used to prevent further clashes between pro-and anti-government protestors.
The emergency decree was lifted on September 14, with the government saying the move was aimed at restoring confidence among international tourists coming to Thailand.
Simon Wright, a manager of a bar and restaurant in the tourism nightspot of Patpong says apart from customers expressing some concern over the political outlook for the country, business through September remained sound.
“Where we are we get a regular turnover of customers who come back. We haven’t got the sort of casual trade that maybe hotels have – people passing through who would have used Bangkok as a hub to go somewhere else and have diverted,” adds Wright.
But the outlook, Wright says, is still not for blue skies despite Thailand soon entering the ‘high season’ of holiday makers over Christmas and New Year. He expects business to be slow this year largely due to higher global fuel prices and the recessionary outlook for the global economy.