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Thai election staggers towards billion dollar tourism loss

February 4, 2014 Destination Thailand, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Thailand’s general election lurched into action after government supporters and opposition protesters had earlier opened fire on each other with pistols and machine guns on the streets of Bangkok.

The election itself was not violent, however, and news outlet CNBC pointed out that the country’s share market was up – though tourism earnings are under threat. Even before the election began, deputy governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Sukree Sithivanich, estimated the continuing political disruption could cost the tourism industry about THB 30 to 40 billion (AUD 1 billion to 1.4 billion) in lost revenue. Thai AirAsia moved to exclude politically troubled Bangkok from its destination promotion campaign. Cordato Partners-www.tourismlegal.com.au

Sukree predicted that the current problems would cut the number of foreign tourists forecast for 2014 by 8-10%. TAT had projected a 2014 target of 28.1 million.

Some 10,000 polling booths across the Thai capital were reported disrupted by anti-government protests, denying hundreds of thousands of people the vote. A gun battle broke out near one polling booth. While the final result won’t be known for some time, the government will be returned because the opposition boycotted the election and sought to stop people voting rather than participate.

Several political scenarios are possible. If not enough candidates were elected in the poll to  make a quorum for parliament to meet, the election could be declared void. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra could stay on as caretaker prime minister and the country could remain in limbo for months.

“While the demonstrations are taking place in the central Bangkok areas, life in most parts of the Thai capital and throughout Thailand continues as usual,” the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) reiterated on the eve of the election. “However, tourists are advised to be vigilant and avoid the demonstration areas for their own safety and security.”

Despite TAT’s “business as usual” approach, the unrest has affected tourism and business events. Foreign tourists and event organisers cannot be expected to know the intricacies of Thai politics, but gunfire is always a turn-off. Many visitors, only superficially acquainted with the situation through news bulletins, can’t understand why any opposition would choose to boycott an election, rather than contesting it. The demonstrators demand that an unelected “people’s council” be installed instead and the whole political system be overhauled.

A total of 48 countries, at last count, had issued travel advisories to tourists intending to visit Thailand, warning about the  possibility of political violence.

Sukree said Laos had become the latest country to have issued a travel warning for its citizens, urging them to avoid travelling to Thailand, particularly the areas where the emergency decree is imposed and the rally sites of the anti-government protesters.

Several countries, including Italy, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, had advised tourists to delay visiting Thailand on 1 and 2 February, because there could be violent confrontation between the anti-election protesters and state authorities, Sukree told the Bangkok Post.

“Australians should continue to avoid all polling places, political rallies and protest activities,” Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) advised. “You should be aware of the potential for confrontation between groups of protestors, and between protestors and members of the security forces.”

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post carried the news that low-cost carrier Thai AirAsia (TAA) had excluded Bangkok from its destination promotion campaign, which now focuses on other Thai cities – and services that transit the Thai the capital.

TAA is promoting its Fly-Thru service via Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport to other Thai locations, with passengers’ baggage checked through to their final destinations.

The airline’s chief executive Tassapon Bijleveld told the paper that while TAA services to other domestic destinations were still doing well, direct flights from Bangkok to China and Indochina were not. The number of Chinese passengers had plunged almost 30% and passengers from Indochina had dipped by 15%, he said.

 

Written by : Peter Needham

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