January 27, 2014 00:00
By Bamrung Amnatcharoenrit
Despite concerns about turmoil, visitors to Thai pavilion upbeat
News from Thailand is very popular right now in Kuching, capital of the state of Sarawak on Borneo. Wherever Thai journalists go, local people including van drivers, souvenir vendors to hotel staff want to know about the country’s political movement. Such news is featured in local newspapers and television programmes.
Curiosity on the issue seemed to peak last Wednesday in a meeting room at the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching, where the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) held a media briefing. The emergency decree imposed in Bangkok was of particular interest.
Some journalists raised doubts about how foreign tourists would be able to stay in the capital city, and also whether officials would treat people differently during the 60-day period of the decree.
TAT Governor Thawatchai Arunyik assured reporters that Thailand was still safe for foreign tourists, but urged them to avoid the protest-hit areas in Bangkok. Furthermore, he pointed out, nobody has attacked any tourists.
If they want to avoid the city altogether, tourists have a choice of other provinces spanning the nation from Chiang Mai to Phuket, which are still peaceful.
In spite of the emergency decree, people in Bangkok are going about their daily lives as usual, he said.
Eventually, the question session ended, with media apparently understanding Thawatchai’s points.
“Let’s wait and watch the political scenario calmly,” he said. “We have had bitter experiences in political crises before, after which we prepared measures to save this industry. But so far we can’t do much because we do not know how this political situation will end and what its outcome will be,” he said.
This was the scene at “Asean Tourism Forum 2014” (ATF), held from January 16-23 and themed ‘‘Asean – Advancing Tourism Together’’. The event also featured an Asean Tourism Exchange, a platform that allowed buyers around the world to hold business talks on tourism products and services with suppliers from the 10-member bloc.
In the hall, governments and companies competed with one another to show off their tourist attractions while at the same time sharing experiences and ideas to promote the region as a destination. The sooner regional connectivity schemes are launched, the more benefits Asean countries will see.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak presided over the opening ceremony and stressed that tourism was one of the world’s fastest-growing industries and a star sector to help drive economies and boost employment.
He cited a report by the United Nations’ World Tourism Organisation, saying the global tourism trend was very optimistic. From 2010 to 2030, the number of international tourists worldwide was projected to increase from 940 million to 1.8 billion, providing many business opportunities.
In Southeast Asia, the trend is even more upbeat than for the world as a whole. The number of inbound tourists to the region is expected to increase by 5.1 per cent annually from 69.9 million in 2010 to 187 million in 2030.
This would increase Asean’s share of the global market from 7.4 per cent in 2010 to 10.3 per cent in 2030, mirroring the region’s dynamism and attractiveness.
The Thai pavilion at the ATF, even as a political cloud hung over the Kingdom itself, enjoyed a healthy attendance. Hosted by the TAT, 20 Thai companies showed off their products and services. They included 14 hotels and resorts and three tour operators.
Buyers understood the political situation well, especially that the demonstrations were mostly non-violent, but expressed concern anyway.
Patricia Weismantel, a buyer and product manager of Spice-Roads, a tour company with an office in Bangkok, said she understood the Thai-style protests, but it was hard to explain what she knew to her clients from Australia, the United States and Britain.
In her view, Bangkok is still safe for travellers. However, some clients from the US have cancelled their tour packages, while the numbers from Europe and Australia are still stable.
Zahiruddin Babar, general manager of K Line Air, a tour agent in Dhaka, said the political chaos in Bangkok had had no impact on his firm’s bookings. Bangladeshis have had similar experiences of political protests and understand the situation.
Thailand is considered a medical destination, thanks to affordable prices for high-quality service and its short-haul proximity to Bangladesh, Babar said.