Thailand is plotting its return from the tourism cold now that control and order has been restored in Bangkok.
Many fear that Thailand’s image as the “Land of Smiles” has been shattered by the violence that left 88 dead and 1,900 injured since early April and saw 36 major buildings burned last week. The government estimates that the two months of political upheaval have cost the country’s tourism industry an estimated US$1.5 billion.
The country is heavily dependent on travel and tourism, but has been gutted by last week’s scenes, televised worldwide, of Bangkok reduced to a battle zone in an army crackdown on a “Red Shirt” encampment in the city’s ritzy commercial district.
The Ministry of Tourism and Sports has issued a statement on Wednesday declaring that tourists can visit safely now that political unrest in the capital other provinces has returned. The ministry also says it attaches high importance to the safety and security of international tourists.
“Major tourism destinations in provinces across the country are still pristine, peaceful and safe. Various measures have been implemented to return normalcy to the country and to assure foreign visitors that Thailand remains a quality and value for money destination,” it said.
In a bid to boost numbers, the ministry is issuing free travel insurance for foreign tourists and the waiver of tourist visa fees had been extended to March 31 next year.
Thailand’s National Economic and Social Development board said Monday that the Bangkok violence had turned away millions of potential tourists, cutting revenues by 113 billion baht (US$3.47 billion).
“There will only be about 13 million tourist arrivals this year, a three million drop from our original target of 16 million,” the think-tank said in a statement, noting tourist arrivals from within Asia had particularly declined.
Speaking after an assessment meeting with Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Muslin Sukpatnarakul said the number of foreign tourists began to slide at the start of the troubles in March and then dropped sharply after most foreign embassies had warned their nationals against visiting Thailand during the protest.
He added that Chinese tourists’ revoking of chartered group tours had resulted in tourist number plunge by 40 percent in mid May.
While, in May, Thailand Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij said that advance booking to Phuket fell by as much as 12 percent.
Peter Intrayota, vice-president of the Thai Hotels Association’s northern branch, told AFP that hotel occupancy in the popular tourist city of Chiang Mai had fallent to ten percent as many believed “the troubles are not over”.
“Our hotels and streets are empty. Tourists are just cancelling their bookings,” Intrayota said. “Ninety-five percent of Chiang Mai residents are Red Shirt supporters. The political situation remains unstable.”
This week officials from the tourism industry, including hotel associations and airlines, met to devise a marketing plan to help revive the industry, said Prakit Piriyakiet, spokesman for the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
Meanwhile, Prakit said Thailand’s annual tourism forum had been postponed from June until September and the government could subsidise advertising in an attempt to win back travellers from Japan and China, which has cancelled charter flights.
“We will focus on the short-haul market - the quick win market - Southeast Asian and Asian countries,” Prakit said.
Many tourism officials said they thought it would take about six months for the industry to recover as long as there was not more unrest. However the Minor Group’s Chairman and CEO William Heinecke said travellers looking for steep discounts would be disappointed.
“For sure there will be deals around but if you think we’re going to slash the rates of our hotels, I don’t think that’s going to occur,” he said. “We learned long ago that if you take rates down, they’re going to take a long time to go up.”