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Tourism sector upbeat on Bangkok's prospects despite next week's severe disruption

The Tourism and Sports Ministry and tourism-related operators are confident that the industry will survive any hardship caused by the "Bangkok shutdown" on Monday by the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee, and that the capital can be saved as a major tourism destination.

Their joint announcement came yesterday amid the cloud hanging over the industry as a result of the ongoing political turmoil, and especially the travel warnings now issued by 45 countries about their nationals visiting Thailand - and Bangkok in particular.

Six largely Islamic nations - Malaysia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait - have recently issued travel warnings.

Of the six, Kuwait, Oman and the UAE have issued Level-4 warnings to "reconsider your need to travel", while Malaysia's warning remains at the Level-3 "high degree of caution."

None of the countries has issued a Level-5 "do not travel" warning to its nationals.

However, the number of visitors to the Kingdom from each of these nations is relatively small. For example, last year there were 122,312 tourists from the UAE, 70,598 from Kuwait and 21,386 from Saudi Arabia.

The Tourism and Sports Ministry, the Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT) and the Tourist Police Division yesterday gathered to show their readiness for next week's events in Bangkok by setting up a "Tourist's Friend Centre'' to help foreign visitors inconvenienced by any severe disruption, especially to road traffic.

The meeting was chaired by Suwat Sidthilaw, permanent secretary of the ministry.

The ministry will set up the main centre in Huamark, plus joint operations at key MRT and BTS stations as well as at three hotels: the Westin, Twin Towers and Windsor.

Special van and bus services will be offered, as well as a boat-taxi service in the worst-case disruption scenario.

There will be 50 volunteers wearing Tourist's Friend Centre T-shirts to help visitors, as well as 60 tourist police officers, in cooperation with a team from the People's Democratic Reform Committee.

Pornthip Hirunkate, TCT vice president for marketing and owner of an inbound tour business, said operators of tour services on Monday would do their best to maintain business as usual.

However, operators have learned from past demonstrations to adjust their tour programmes by avoiding any protest areas, she said.

Pornthip, who expects between 80,000 and 100,000 foreign tourists to be staying in Bangkok on Monday, said the huge protest would undoubtedly hit the tourism industry, and that the country would lose around Bt20 billion in tourism revenue this month.

The number of visitors from Scandinavia is in decline, she said, adding however that what the industry was doing on Monday would at least go a long way towards saving the Kingdom's tourism image.

The Tourist's Friend Centre operations will, for example, be run for at least five days in the event of prolonged disruption.

Moreover, plagued by political turmoil and safety concerns, the ministry is considering the feasibility of increasing compensation for foreign tourists severely injured in any rioting. At present, Bt300,000 is given to anyone who is disabled as a result of such an incident.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand, meanwhile, has had to delay some marketing activities abroad in the coming months due to the political unrest.


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