Scrapping martial law, other junta moves needed to achieve goal, tourism bodies say

Economy June 24, 2014 00:00

By Suchat Sritama
The Nation

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The tourism industry needs some more action from the junta if it is to achieve the goal of contributing 10 per cent of the economy, experts say.

“The lifting of martial law is the last step to entice tourists into returning to the Kingdom. To tourists, not having any threat is the best environment for travelling,” Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, the inbound trade association, said yesterday.
Key tourism bodies have urged the military regime to roll out recovery plans along with building tourists’ confidence, especially in their safety, ahead of the approaching peak season as well as for the long haul.
Tourism has been badly battered for a month since the military seized power from the elected government on May 22 and established the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). The country had targeted 28.6 million tourist arrivals this year before lowering its sights to 25 million visitors specifically because of the putsch, while forecast tourism receipts were also reduced from Bt1.7 trillion to Bt1.3 trillion. 
Last year, Thailand counted Bt1.17 trillion left in the country by 26.7 million arrivals plus more than Bt800 billion from domestic trippers. 
Thai Hotels Association statistics show that hotels in Bangkok have suffered from a loss of inbound and corporate business. Some business hotels are running only 30-40 per cent occupied compared with 70 per cent at the same time last year. 
However, the association is preparing to launch special deals to help draw tourists back to the country.
To provide correct information and the message that business and travel are proceeding as usual despite martial law, the military should disclose a “national vision” to the international community, said Marc Begassat, general manager of the Pullman Bangkok King Power Hotel. 
One of the big concerns over accuracy of news coverage of the Thai political situation has been raised by William Heinecke, an American-born, naturalised Thai businessman who owns one of the largest hospitality and leisure firms in the Asia-Pacific region – Minor International. 
The Tourism Council of Thailand is calling on the NCPO to bring back the National Tourism Policy Committee, which collapsed under the junta-controlled administration. The body will help address at least three issues – managing the tourism budget, rebuilding confidence and stamping out illegal businesses like rogue taxis and extortionist jet-ski services.
Like other general tourists, meeting, incentive, convention and exhibition travellers have proposed the relaxation of martial law to assure planners that it is not risky to host events in the country. 
More than 1,000 meetings and conferences have been cancelled or postponed due to fear of instability under the current situation. 
Not only do tourists and businesspeople feel skittish about heading to Thailand, foreigners seeking medical services also feel uneasy. The drop in patients has been confirmed by top hospitals including Samitivej Hospital Group. 
The Tourism Authority of Thailand will be the first player to move on a short-term revival plan by hosting a mega familiarisation trip next month. About 1,000 travel journalists and bloggers will be in Thailand to help rebuild tourism before it enters the high season.