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[ 2014-10-14 ]

Martial law killing arrivals

Tourism industry bodies desperate for a boost amid weak bookings

The tourism sector is reiterating its call for the government to lift martial law in the face of losses due to the continued drop in tourist arrivals. 

Key tourism groups - Thai Travel Agents Association (ATTA) and Thai Hotels Association (THA) - voiced their concern over the decline in arrivals despite the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)'s many campaigns to woo visitors in the wake of the coup. 

ATTA has strongly advised the government to lift martial law, while THA is calling for measures to boost confidence in terms of safety and protect tourists from scams. 

Between January and September, international arrivals at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport stood at 9.1 million, down from 11.3 million in the same period last year, according to the Immigration Police Bureau. This shows a 19-per-cent decline. 

The bureau also reported that visitors from all regions, with the exception of Eastern Europe, had plunged by 5 to 30 per cent. Visitors from Northeast Asia recorded the biggest decline of 30 per cent, followed by East Asia (29 per cent) and Oceania (16 per cent). Visitors from east European nations, namely Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Commonwealth nations posted a growth.

Arrivals at the two airports in Bangkok - Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang - account for about 60 per cent of total arrivals in the Kingdom. Though the number of arrivals at Suvarnabhumi has continued to drop, Don Mueangrecorded a significant increase this year due to the relocation of major budget airlines, such as Thai AirAsia, Nok Air and THAI Smile. 

Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, president of ATTA, said the drop in tourist arrivals was mostly due to the martial law and that many tourists were choosing to travel to other countries. 

"Foreigners are still unsure about their safety in the country and feel uncomfortable about coming here at a time when martial law is in force. The only way to return confidence would be to lift this law," he said. 

According to the Foreign Ministry's website, as of Tuesday some 50 countries had issued travel advisories in relation to Thailand.

ATTA also predicted that the number of arrivals this year would drop by 15 to 20 per cent judging by less bookings in the high season. If the prediction comes true, then the country stands to lose 20 to 30 per cent in revenue from tourism. 

Other than political chaos, the sector was affected by the curfew after May 22 - which is now lifted - as well as the recent earthquake in the North. 

Pornthip Hirunkate, a member of one of the panels at the Tourism Council of Thailand, said the industry would continue facing difficulty due to the martial law. 

"During the high season from October to January, there should be some 10 million visitors or up to 40 per cent of total arrivals. However, we need to await and see what happens this year," she said, adding that operators may gain some business during the Christmas, New Year period. 

Supawan Tanomkieatipume, THA's vice president for marketing, said advance bookings at hotels in Bangkok during high season this year had not risen compared to those in Chiang Mai, Phuket and Koh Samui. 

She said tourists from key markets such as Japan, India, Russia and Europe were still worried about the unrest but would consider returning if martial law was lifted. 

Thailand earned some Bt1.3 trillion from tourism this year and was ranked seventh - ahead of all Asean nations and after only China - rising from last year's ninth position in global rankings. 

This year, TAT projected getting some 25.6 million international arrivals, a slight drop over 2013. However, visitor expenditure is expected to rise 2.2 per cent to Bt1.23 trillion.

The agency had previously announced a series of marketing campaigns in a bid to woo tourists and will be running its "Discover Thai-ness" promotion next year. It is also set to launch "24 hours Enjoy Thailand" and opt for viral marketing to boost visitor arrivals despite martial law. 
 
The Nation October 14, 2014 1:00 am
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