Home tourism 'to endure Bt30bn loss if protests affect Songkran'

Economy February 11, 2014 00:00

By Bamrung Amnatcharoenrit
The N

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Big drop in Thais travelling outside home provinces

The Association of Domestic Travel (ADT) projects that if political chaos continues through the Songkran Festival, the domestic tourism industry will lose more than Bt30 billion in revenue in the first four months of this year.
Already, political protest has had impacts on three players in the industry – hotels, small and medium-sized enterprises, and tour guides. But if the situation drags on into April, the whole industry will be hit hard during Songkran. Thais may spend less than normal, especially cutting their stays from three nights to two.ADT president Yutthachai Soonthronrattanavate said the main problem the overall tourism industry was facing was the announcement of a state of emergency, which has spooked foreign tourists. He urged the government to end the decree to encourage them back. It should also make it clear that the protests have been largely non-violent. 
In the local industry, the number of Thais travelling outside their own provinces has posted a big drop. Tourism in the South declined by 60-70 per cent because many people left for Bangkok to participate in political demonstrations. As well, it declined in the lower North by 50 per cent as people lost income because of the financially troubled rice-pledging programme, while the Central region was hit by the Bangkok-centred protests themselves, with a drop of 30 per cent.
The three-day Maka Bucha holiday period, which starts this Friday, is one example. Merit-making tours have been hit, with the number of tour buses expected to drop from 500 to 200-300 during the period. 
Yutthachai said tour operators were not confident with the situation and many chose not to spend much on marketing activities for fear of unfruitful results. Some chose to communicate with existing clients by direct mail, a way to save money.  He urged the Tourism Authority of Thailand to pay more attention to domestic travel by spearheading a master plan to save the industry after it is hit hard by the ongoing political unrest. The plan should be discussed by operators nationwide to map out an integrated solution. He said he wanted the TAT to continue promoting domestic tourism, but said it should not spend a lot of money on campaigns that would not have a big impact. He also said 30 per cent of the promotion budget should be saved for a recovery campaign after the chaos ends.
Yutthachai is not the first to voice concerns. Piyaman Tejapaibul, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT), said recently that the emergency decree had caused lost business opportunities, especially inbound tourism. She urged the government to withdraw it before its two-month deadline to ease the tension. 
The decree is for 60 days, but can legally be extended if necessary. If that happens, it will make the situation even worse. After it was declared, tour agencies overseas were not bold enough to organise trips here because travel insurance does not cover damages due to political situations.Because of political chaos, the TCT has predicted that about 1.7 million foreign tourists will disappear, costing Bt82 billion in revenue in the first half of this year.