An open letter to ambassadors in Thailand

opinion February 23, 2014 00:00

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As CEO of one of the largest companies in Thailand and more so as a concerned citizen, I feel it is my duty to speak up on behalf of our 40,000 employees and those whose livelihoods depend directly and indirectly on tourism - one of the vital drivers of t

Minor International and numerous other operators in the tourism sector have, over many years, laid the foundation for what is considered the best tourism infrastructure in Asia and in doing so it provides a livelihood for millions throughout the country.
Although the ongoing demonstrations are limited to certain parts of Bangkok, the rest of the city – and the country – is safe to visit, but the travel warnings and restrictions issued by some foreign governments do not reflect this fact. Tourists have never been a target in the protests and to this end all airports in Thailand remain fully operational and hotels and tourist attractions across the Kingdom continue to welcome guests as usual. The people of Thailand are extremely welcoming of tourists and I am certain that visitors are in far more danger of being harmed in any major European or American city than they are here in Bangkok.
These unnecessarily severe travel advisories are now having a major impact on the livelihoods of Thais across the country. The Ministry of Tourism and Sports forecasts that tourism arrivals in January have dropped by one million from the same time last year. The Tourism Council estimates Bt22.5 billion in revenue has been lost as a result. This impact will not only be felt in the tourism sector, but also indirectly in all fields, from manufacturing to farming.
Thailand remains one of the most popular and desired destinations on the planet. I know that tourists still want to travel here – I can see it in the reservation enquiries that our hotels receive every day. But people are naturally hesitant when their home country issues travel restrictions or country warnings. Travel advisories play an important role in our overall safety and security, but they can also have an unnecessary negative impact on the livelihood of others when they are not completely based on reality. Foreign governments’ travel warnings and restrictions on their nationals visiting Thailand are not based on the reality of the situation here. If there were demonstrations in Washington or Paris, would tourists be advised not to visit the entire country? Would travel warnings ever be issued?
I ask diplomats based in Thailand who have firsthand experience of the lack of impact of Thailand’s political woes on foreign tourists to push for foreign governments to re-examine the severity of their travel restrictions and to revise their travel advisories to focus only on the very limited pockets of Bangkok that are effected.
I have the utmost respect for the members of the diplomatic community, who play a very important role in representing their nation and their nation’s interests across the globe.
Yet, it is upsetting to see travel warnings such as the “Black/Severe Threat for Thailand (Bangkok)” from the government of Hong Kong. Specifically, nationals are “urged to avoid all travel to Bangkok”, which I feel is severe and should only refer to specific areas of the capital.
In the same vein, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the nations who have not issued, or only issued limited travel warnings – your support is greatly appreciated.
I would also ask that you and the Ministry of Tourism and Sports join with me in lobbying the media to honour journalistic ethics and provide a fair and factual overview of the political challenges that we face. Sensationalist headlines and reports are not giving a balanced view of the protests that we face in Bangkok. Such reporting serves only to further fuel the fire of fear-mongering. Bangkok is open for business and visitors are warmly welcomed across the capital and the country.
William E Heinecke
Chairman and CEO of Minor International Plc

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