January arrivals to plunge during chaos
THE TOURISM industry is feeling the pinch from the extended political crisis, with expected losses of 400,000 foreign-tourist arrivals and Bt18 billion in revenue this month.
Piyaman Tejapaiboon, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT), said yesterday that the political turmoil had posed risks to the tourism market, which is still in the high season. During normal times, the country welcomes about 2.5 million foreign tourists in January.
January 31 has Chinese New Year as a highlight, but fewer tourists from Greater China, including Hong Kong and Taiwan, are expected to celebrate their holidays in the Kingdom. The flow of tourists from Japan and Russia will also be slow this month because they are sensitive to the security situation.
Bangkok, Pattaya, Hua Hin and Cha-am are among the tourist destinations to be hit hard. In terms of groups, the incentive segment will suffer the most. This group of travellers is a key revenue contributor to the industry as they spend double what regular tourists lay out during their stay.
The trouble is centred in Bangkok. The TCT says it will keep a closer watch on developments. It has not revised its projections for the whole year of 29.92 million in arrivals and Bt1.35 trillion in revenue, as the industry has learned lessons from the past when business quickly rebounded after setbacks.
Sugree Sithivanich, deputy governor for marketing communications at the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), expressed concern over the decline in short-haul passengers during Chinese New Year amid the political chaos. Safety is among their key concerns.
Given the cloudy political scenario, Singapore Airlines said last week that it planned to cancel 19 flights to Bangkok between January 14 and February 15. Airports of Thailand also said there was a sign that tourists from Hong Kong would be asked to buy life insurance before flying here.
Chanapan Kaewklachaiyawuth, secretary-general of the Thai-Chinese Tourism Alliance Association, said the street protests would scare off Chinese travellers until March. For the first quarter, they are expected to drop 60 per cent from 900,000 compared with the same period last year. Bangkok would be hit the hardest with a 70-per-cent fall, while Chiang Mai, Pattaya and Phuket would decline 40 per cent.
Clearly, tourists have been worrying about their trips after learning from the media about the ''Bangkok shutdown" campaign planned by anti-government protesters under the People's Democratic Reform Committee.
Anake Srishevachart, president of the Thai-Japan Tourist Association, said the political strife had caused a big drop in travellers from mainland China, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan. This situation is expected continue until next quarter. Especially conference and meeting delegates will disappear.
A conference for 200 Japanese scheduled for January 20 in Bangkok has been cancelled. China is another example. For March-May, Chinese operators cannot sell charter-flight packages to 3,000 tourists because they are not confident in the political situation. They may get hurt if the trip is cancelled.
TAT today is meeting with caretaker Tourism Minister Somsak Pureesrisak to discuss how to deliver a unified message to the public, to help tourists understand the true situation, as a way to save the country's image from political damage.