Bangkok Airport Still Under Siege
Thailand's Tourism Takes a Bashing
By Airwise on 28 November 2008 in News
Thailand's tourist sector has taken another beating from the siege of Bangkok's airports by anti-government protesters, with losses mounting for tour operators and airlines as both locals and tourists cancel trips.
The closure of the USD$4 billion Suvarnabhumi Airport since late on Tuesday has forced the cancellation of hundreds of fights and stranded thousands of tourists. The domestic Don Muang airport was also closed on Thursday.
"I'm very upset. There are no bookings. There are no tourists. The whole industry has been paralysed because a group of people shut the doorway into Thailand," said Maiyarat Pirayakoset, president of the Association of Domestic Travel.
"Who's going to be in the mood to travel at a time like this? The airport needs to be reopened within 24 hours. Closing the airport is closing the country," she said.
The protesters have been waging a street campaign for six months against an administration that it sees as the puppet of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was removed by the military in September 2006 and now lives in exile.
Some airports in the south were briefly closed by protests in August.
"Last time it was like shooting yourself in the kneecap, but this time it's in the head," Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat said.
The tourist industry could lose THB76 billion - THB120 billion baht (USD$2.2 billion - USD$3.4 billion) in revenue if the turmoil continued for another month, the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce said.
Thailand is banking on THB600 billion in revenue from 15.5 million tourist arrivals this year, after 14.5 million last year. Next year it expects 16 million tourists to visit the "Land of Smiles", home to some of Asia's best beaches.
"Tourist targets? They're history now," Tourism Minister Weerasak said. "We're not talking about the loss figures as our country's image has been completely destroyed."
However, private analysts are scaling down arrival forecasts.
Asia Plus Securities said arrivals could be below 14.5 million this year and it expected the number to fall 10 percent to about 13 million in 2009.
"The political woes could damage the country's image and the global economic slowdown may put pressure on the number of tourist arrivals in Thailand next year," the broker said.
In the first 10 months of the year, the number of foreign arrivals at Suvarnabhumi airport rose 2.4 percent from a year earlier to 8.52 million.
But the number fell 15 percent in July-October as travellers were scared off by emergency rule in September and political violence in October, when two people died and over 400 were injured.
The international airport handles over 100,000 visitors a day, 70 percent of whom are tourists, Weerasak said.
Thai Airways said it expected losses of more than THB500 million a day from the airport closures.
The tourist sector directly employs 1.8 million people and brings in the equivalent of 6 percent of gross domestic product, making it a major engine of economic growth, already suffering from slowing exports caused by the global economic slump.
The unrest could not have come at a worse time for Thai tourism, since November is the start of the peak season. "Business is awful," said tour operator Chantana Sukchaona of Rose Travel and Service.
"Just two days before we still had full bookings. Everything was all set. People had planned their vacations and booked their time off work," she said. "Now there's nothing they can do but cancel their trips."
Thais wanting to go abroad are also having second thoughts.
"Usually this time of the year, we have lots of trips to Japan, Australia, New Zealand," Chantana said. "Everything has stopped."
Maiyarat of the Association of Domestic Travel said something had to be done quickly.
"Everything is paralysed and nobody's doing anything about it. Don't ask how much money we're losing as it's beyond a disaster."
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