Thailand Tries To Win Back Confidence

Tourists, come back

By Reuters on 08 December 2008 in News

With glossy airline adverts, millions of baht earmarked for promotions and Miss Thailand posing for pictures with tourists, Thailand started work on Friday on a long battle to win back the confidence of tourists.

Officials signed off on systems checks at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport after a week-long siege by anti-government protesters paralyzed Thailand's tourism industry in the middle of the peak season, stranding more than 230,000 travelers.

Transport minister Santi Prompat told reporters it was "business as usual" during a tour of Suvarnabhumi, Thailand's main international gateway, on Friday.

"The airport is ready and everything is safe. What happened is a lesson. Now we have to move quickly to bring back confidence," he said.

The airport shutdown has already cost the tourism- and export-dependent economy hundreds of millions of dollars, but authorities said there was no major damage to the airport itself.

Damage done to the image of the "Land of Smiles" is untold.

Government officials have been quick to say how badly the protesters hurt the economy. Finance Minister Suchart Thada-Thamrongvech says there may be no growth at all in 2009, while Deputy Prime Minister Olarn Chaipravat said tourist arrivals could be halved in 2009.

But tourist authorities put on a brave face.

"We might lose about one million (tourists) but not more than that," Phornsiri Manoharn, governor of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) said, referring to a target of 15.5 million arrivals this year, a 7 percent rise from 2007.

"Most of our tourists are repeat travellers. I've talked to many of them. They said they will come back and they're not worried," she said.

Tourism directly employs 1.8 million people and brings in the equivalent of 6 percent of GDP to Thailand's coffers. The closure of the airport affected virtually all Thais.

"I never get on a plane, or anything, but once the airport resumes, I can make more money," said Winai Kratunam, a taxi driver, in front of a the USD$4 billion airport.

Serirat Prasutanond, acting president of Airports of Thailand, told reporters that the facility was now ready to be back to full capacity and that security should not be a concern.

"We test-run everything over and over," he said. "We'll see our first flight to the US tomorrow. If we're not safe enough, we couldn't do that."

Some 547 flights will fly to and from Suvarnabhumi on Friday, carrying at least 100,000 passengers, he said.

(Reuters)

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