'Seize Bangkok' campaign ends joy over hitting 2013 projection
Over New Year's, tourism operators rejoiced in hitting projections for 2013, but their holiday cheer seemed to evaporate when they found out that protesters have embarked on a "seize the capital" campaign.
"Luckily, the political demonstrations have not chosen the way of violence," Supawan Tanomkieatipume, chairwoman for public relations at the Thai Hotels Association, said yesterday.
The People's Democratic Reform Committee's plan to shut down Bangkok on January 13 is expected to hurt the city's image as a prime tourist destination. Both local and foreign visitors will be inconvenienced as they try to visit tourist attractions and could also worry that they are in personal danger.
The impacts will continue through Chinese New Year on January 31, which is still the high season. The tourism industry has already started seeing warning signs of charter-flight cancellations, especially from China and Russia.
If this trend continues, it's high likely that hotel occupancy in Bangkok will drop 30-40 percentage points at a time when normally rooms are full.
Paul Stevens, director of operations for Accor Thailand, expressed concern about the political chaos. However, the company's Novotel and Ibis hotels in the downtown area are doing quite well.
For this month, room bookings have slowed down a bit because of the unstable political situation late last year.
"We hope that the situation remains peaceful so that tourist arrivals can stay on track in 2014," he said.
Sugree Sithivanich, deputy governor for marketing communications at the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said his agency had kept a close watch on the political scene. TAT is evaluating various scenarios in case of political disaster, for their ramifications for both foreign-tourist numbers as well as revenue.
This year, TAT targets foreign tourist arrivals increasing 7.28 per cent to 28.01 million and tourism revenue 12.91 per cent to Bt1.33 trillion.
Yutthachai Soonthronrattanavate, president of the Association of Domestic Travel, said it was hard to tell how such political turmoil would end. However, what is sure is that its continuation will squeeze the tourism industry and also the MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) business.
The study tours of schools coming to Bangkok are victims of the unrest, while event organisers are waiting to see what develops.
"Tourism sentiment is not good at present. Everybody has kept their attention on politics. In Bangkok, if the capital is seized by the PDRC as announced, travel barriers in Bangkok will get more serious," he said.
For example, big corporations in the automobile industry in Bangkok are on high alert, which reflects their uncertainty over the situation in the capital. They have asked for employees at the managerial level to work at showrooms more strictly, as an urgent case, in order to save its operations from an uncontrolled turnout, he said.
Overall, the flow of foreign tourists into Thailand is still good, Yutthachai said. If the situation ends soon, there will be no need to change the industry's estimates for the whole year.
The Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau has confirmed that the political chaos has pinched the MICE business in the country this quarter.
Apparently, the cloudy situation prevents MICE operators having enough confidence to plan anything, especially inviting participants.
Safety is the key concern for this business because insurance will not cover situations caused by political conflict, he said.