The Thai Chamber of Commerce will meet tomorrow to discuss the country's problems and estimate the damage from the anti-government rally in the capital.
"The seven private [sector] organisations have attempted to help find solutions for the country quickly, but it depends on all involved. The government and anti-government sides have their own, separate discussions. But they need to talk together so that Thailand can emerge from this prolonged disagreement," vice chairman Bhumindr Harinsut said yesterday.
The University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC) estimates losses from the "Bangkok shutdown" at Bt700 million to Bt1 billion a day.
The Stock Exchange of Thailand yesterday closed up 2.23 per cent to 1,283.56 points on turnover of Bt30.25 billion. Foreign investors showed net buys of Bt1.88 billion and proprietary investors of Bt1.99 billion but institutional investors posted net sales of Bt2.6 billion, and individuals of Bt1.23 billion.
Bhumindr said the Thai Ship Owners Association, which he also chairs, was scheduled to meet with the government at 2pm today to estimate the loss to the logistics business and how shipments could be managed during the Bangkok freeze.
Definitely, the shutdown has inflicted losses on the economy, he said. If the protest drags on, businesses will have to make adjustments. For the logistics business, many exporters and importers have been advised to use Laem Chabang Port in Chon Buri instead of Bangkok Port in Klong Toei.
More than 90 per cent of shipments go through Laem Chabang, which should not be troubled by the rallies, he added.
The Asian Development Bank is worried that the protest situation in Thailand will weigh heavily on the economy.
Takehiko Nakao, president of the ADB, has been monitoring developments here and warned that if the protest is long-lasting, it will have a major effect on the economy.
The US Federal Reserve’s tapering of quantitative easing is upsetting many emerging markets in Asia and worldwide but they should be able to handle it, he added.
Thanavath Phonvichai, director of the UTCC’s Economic and Business Forecasting Centre, said that if the demonstrations go on for two weeks, the loss could exceed Bt20 billion. The tourism industry will be hit the hardest as tourists cancel advance bookings, while many meetings will be interrupted.
Nopporn Thepsithar, chairman of the Thai National Shippers Council, said the export sector had been largely spared so far from the Bangkok shutdown. Exporters are keeping a close eye on the situation to see if the protests turn violent or spread out to more areas.
Overseas buyers have already shortened the contractual terms for buying Thai goods since they are afraid of possible supply disruptions.
"What is worrisome is that if the situation doesn’t end soon, importers [of Thai goods] may lose their confidence and seek to buy from other sources," he said.
Even if transport to Bangkok Port is disrupted, Laem Chabang Port will be able to help handle shipments, although that would raise costs for some exporters in Greater Bangkok, Nopporn said.
Another key concern is the Internet, which has to be kept up and running, otherwise exports would be in deep trouble.
"It can’t be judged at this stage how much impact [there will be on the export sector]. If it lingers and turns violent, the impacts may stretch towards the second quarter," he said.
Ronnachit Mahattanapreut, senior vice president for finance and administration at Central Plaza Hotel, one of the country’s leading hotel operators under brands including Centara Grand and Centara, said occupancy at five of its hotel chains in Bangkok had been hit. From January 1-12, it stood at 60 per cent, down from 70 per cent a year ago.
Centel, as the company is known, has launched a campaign offering discounts of 40-50 per cent, running at least until tomorrow.
Expatriates and upper-income Thais joining the rally are among the targets. This promotion will be reviewed every week.
The political demonstration has inconvenienced guests and the hotel’s employees, but it is not a big problem, thanks to crisis management learned from past lessons, especially the red-shirt demonstration a few years ago, Ronnachit said.
Staff have been told to use the Skytrain, while some key managers are provided rooms at the hotel for overnight stays. Food is stocked for a month to minimise risks. The limousine chauffeurs are trained to take guests skilfully to and from the hotel by avoiding rally-affected areas. The firm is keeping track of the situation on a day-to-day basis.
Paul Stevens, director of operations for Accor Thailand, operator of the Novotel, Pullman and Ibis hotel chains, said a few of the group’s downtown properties had been stranded by the traffic blockade, but most guests were advised before yesterday’s siege to avoid demonstration areas and use public transport. Most guests are informed and understand the situation quite well. Hotels in these areas are operating as usual, with occupancy running at about 60 per cent.
Pornsil Patchrintanakul, vice chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said he personally thought it was the time for the government to make a decision.
"If the government is concerned about the country, it should accept the protestors’ demands [for] reform," he said.
He added that the election date, currently set by royal decree at February 2, should be postponed to May, which is a proper time as Thailand needs major reform before the poll. Otherwise, Thailand will get the same politicians in power and corruption will continue.