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Convention body notes big drop in visitors

More than 1,000 incoming meetings and conferences are confirmed "no shows" because of security concerns.

"The combination of cancellations and postponements could account for 20-30 per cent of all events scheduled to take place in Thailand this year," Sumate Sudasna, president of the Thailand Incentive and Convention Association, said yesterday.

Martial law and the curfew enforced by the junta are key factors as foreigners fear for their safety.

The national meeting body has urged authorities to get them back by facilitating convenience, not offering budgets.

The country is once again witnessing huge losses of high-end travellers who normally spend triple what general tourists do, or more than Bt12,000 per trip, it says.

Events have been shifted to other countries, postponed or subjected to review. Most cancellations and postponements are from East Asia and Asean. Only a few are from long-haul markets.

"It is very strange to hear that the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau sees only a small drop from this political pressure, especially martial law and the curfew. We [hotel operators and incentive providers] are suffering from overseas markets," he said.

However, the future is getting brighter after the junta lifted night-time curfews in 20 provinces. Many event organisers and meeting planners from overseas are returning to local partners with "requests for proposals" to see how the situation has improved.

At this stage, key markets such as Australia and Europe have seen the fastest rebound.

To regain such quality visitors, the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau should revise |its marketing strategy to apply |to the current situation, Sumate said.

The TCEB should enhance overall service standards and |travel convenience for foreigners in areas such as immigration, transport and access, and labour skills.

"Most important at this time is building confidence to secure the industry long-term," he said.

Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, said foreign businesspeople were staying home, so it would take a longer time for them to return to Thailand than general tourists.

The association has revised its arrival forecast from 28 million to between 25 million and 26 million, depending on the political situation.The Tourism Authority of Thailand also set a new target of nearly 27 million, down from 28 million.

Some say the TCEB should avoid offering too much money to organisers out of its subsidy budget, as that could damage the business in the long run.

All organisations and firms have already |prepared budgets for meetings and conferences. Instead, it should push up spending per head while visitors are actually in the country.

TCEB is aiming for 980,000 MICE (meeting, incentive, convention and exhibition) travellers this year, up from 930,000 arrivals last year. MICE revenue is projected at Bt96 million, up from Bt88 billion last year.

Surapong Techaruvichit, president of the Thai Hotels Association, said hotels in Bangkok were hurting as foreign tourists and businesspeople have disappeared.

Some business hotels are running only 30-40 per cent full compared with 70 per cent a year ago.

However, the hotel group believes that political developments will help draw tourists back to the country.


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