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Forward bookings growth sees decline

TAT deputy governor remains optimistic of reaching 26 million target this year

Thailand's tourism industry has started to suffer from political chaos, with signs of a drop in growth of forward bookings from some overseas markets over the next two months.

Asean, Oceania, South Asia and Africa are among the affected markets. However, a decline in tourists from some African nations might have been triggered by political problems in those countries, not Thailand's.

Australia provides an example of the decline. Normally during this period, its forward bookings grow by double digits, but for this month and January the rate is only 3.6 per cent.

Overall, however, Sugree Sithivanich, deputy governor for marketing communications of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), said forward bookings were still positive, with an increase of 2.2 per cent for December and 14.2 per cent for next month.

Despite the escalating political tension, he is still confident that the country will be able to achieve its 2013 projection of 26.1 million foreign tourist arrivals and tourism revenue of about Bt1.174 trillion, thanks to a continuing flow of visitors from Europe - particularly Russia - and the Americas.

Russians are still pouring into the country on chartered fights, but are avoiding Bangkok. They are choosing to go to Pattaya, Kanchanaburi, Hua Hin or Ayutthaya instead.

If the political turmoil drags on into the new year, the country will witness a decline of free independent travellers in the first quarter, the TAT predicts. At present, this category accounts for 30 per cent of total foreign arrivals in Thailand.

So far, 34 governments have issued warnings to their people planning to travel to Thailand. New Zealand was the latest to announce such a warning yesterday, while Romania announced one on Sunday.

The others are the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Japan, Taiwan, Canada, Austria, Israel, Brazil, Singapore, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia, Finland, Denmark, the Czech Republic, China, South Korea, the United States, Russia, Hong Kong, Ireland, Switzerland, Australia, Luxembourg, Mexico and India.

Only three nations - Russia, Slovakia and Israel - have issued a Level 3 warning, while the others were content with Level 2. A Level 3 message calls for a high degree of caution, while Level 2 just urges people to exercise reasonable caution. So far, no country has issued the highest warning, the Level 5 "no travel" edict, according to the TAT.

Given the unpredictable situation, the TAT is monitoring the unrest closely so as to update its information and prepare and analyse cautionary plans to restore tourists' confidence.

Overall, plans for the December festive season, including New Year countdown parties in key locations, especially Ratchaprasong in downtown Bangkok, are still scheduled.

Piyaman Techapaiboon, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, said that if key countries raise their warnings to Level 5 on the worsening political condition, "we will stand to lose some 500,000 visitors or around 8-10 per cent of tourists coming into Thailand during December. This means that the country could lose up to Bt2.5 billion if the violence continues."

Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, said the outlook for foreign arrivals, especially from Hong Kong, Singapore and mainland China, was still positive this month. However, he expressed concern about people who were in the process of deciding where to take a holiday. Images of political violence have circulated worldwide, which could damage people's perception of the Kingdom.

This worry is especially acute for China. If it raises its warning to Level 4, "reconsider your need to travel", the tourism outlook will get even worse. Chinese tourists will choose to go to other nations instead.

Thailand expects to attract 3 million visitors from China this year.


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