Thailand losses its smile

Widely know as the Land of Smiles, or simply LOS, these days there are very few people smiling in Thailand as the ongoing political turmoil deteriorates by the day.

From the northern city of Chiang Mai to the southern holiday island of Phuket, tour operators and owners of businesses in the tourism sector are already writing off this years peak season and calculating whether their reserves will last through to next year.

Since the “anti-government” “Yellow Shirt” PAD protesters seized Bangkok‚Äôs Government House in August, tourism arrivals have stalled to the point that the country will be lucky to achieve the 14.6 million foreign visitors it attracted in 2007.

Rows of rental motorbikes wait for renters in Chiang Mai
Rows of rental motorbikes wait for renters in Chiang Mai. Photo: John Le Fevre
Tourism sector businesses are being sold-up as Thai tourism figures plummet.
Tourism sector businesses are being sold-up as Thai tourism figures plummet. Photo: John Le Fevre

Tourism in Thailand accounts for more than six per cent of GDP, or around £10 billion in revenue, so reports that international arrivals in September were 16.6 per cent down compared to last year are cause for alarm.

Coupled with the global economic situation and plummeting value of the British pound and it’s easy to see why LOS has lost its smile.

Already the effect of the ongoing political stalemate has seen resorts and hotels begin laying off staff, as pristine beaches remain empty, rooms unoccupied, restaurants empty and motorbikes waiting for renters.

The Khao San Road precinct of Bangkok has long been a melting point for backpackers. However these days tourists, whether backpackers or those with more money to spend are few and far between.

In his travel agency on Khao San Road, David Tayler, owner and managing director of justdiveit.com looks out his window where the normal sea of western holidaymakers and backpackers has been replaced by ordinary Thais going about their business.

While foreign tourist have not completely disappeared from this epicenter of Bangkok’s tourism sector, he says the since the PAD protests started in August there has been a marked drop-off in travellers in the area.

According to Mr Tayler the slump in arrivals has already seen some travel agents close, while the reduction in high-end package tourists and Asian tourists has reached critical levels.

Jusediveit.com is directly affiliated with Buddha View dive resort on Koh Tao and Worldwide dive and sail in Phuket. Both of these resort areas have also been extremely hard hit.

Empty beer bars such as this one are common in Thailand today.
Empty beer bars such as this one are common in Thailand today. Photo John Le Fevre
Empty tables... a sign of the times in the Thai tourism industry.
Empty tables… a sign of the times in the Thai tourism industry. Photo John Le Fevre

Peter Lloyd, a former London city lawyer and retiree in Pattaya said he was surprised by the empty resorts and beaches he encountered on recent visits to Jomtien and Pattaya, as well as to Hua Hin and Ko Tao even before the seizure of Bangkok’s airports by the Yellow Shirts.

“Russian tourism has always seen as the salvation to anything bad in Thailand but that is already severely down on last year.

“My view for the short term is there will be no high season this year.”

This view is echoed by Bangkok travel agent Ted Loh, of Traveldee.

‚ÄúThe short term outlook for tourism is not particularly bright, given the disruptions in Thailand, combined with the worldwide economic downturn,” he said.

The situation will hopefully be resolved shortly and visitors will continue to realize the value of a holiday in Thailand so I expect that the industry will recover towards the end of the high season,” he added.

However both Mr Lloyd and Mr Tayler tend to take a more pessimistic view.

Mr Lloyd believes that for the medium term the political crisis in Thailand will continue to detrimentally impact tourism across all sectors, from beach vendors to luxury hotels and developments.

While Mr Lloyd believes that long term, the Thailand tourism industry will spring back as it has following SARS, the Avian Influenza outbreak, and the 2004 Asian Tsunami, he admits this might take a year or more.

A similar view is held by Englishman Simon Luttrell, owner of the Phuket Airport Hotel and a volunteer with the Phuket Tourist Police.

Thai massage girls while away the time waiting for customers
Thai massage girls while away the time waiting for tourists. Photo: John Le Fevre
Waiting for customers... another boring day waiting for tourists in Thailand.
Waiting for customers… another boring day waiting for tourists in Thailand. Photo: John Le Fevre

While Mr Luttrell doesn’t expect his business to be affected significantly because of the nature of his business, he expects hotels and resorts catering to holiday makers to be badly hit.

“Next year will be particularly bad. Tourists will not easily forget this incident (the seizure of Suvarnabhumi Airport), nor the closing of Phuket Airport by PAD protesters in September.

“If there is further unrest in Bangkok I suspect many tourists will look elsewhere for their Asian holiday.

Ignace Debbaut, owner of Lake Mabprachan Resort just outside of Pattaya said the ongoing political situation had already cost him more than Bt400,000 (over £7,000) from big spending golfing tourists canceling bookings.

Longer term he expects Thailand will return to the holiday list for a lot of tourists, however those who have been directly inconvenienced now, might very well never come back” he said.

Apichart Sankary, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA), said the PAD protests and seizure of both Bangkok airports will have a massive impact on the industry.

“Don’t think that the Thai tourism business will grow next year. It’s dying now because of the political problems. In the best case, we might just see flat growth,” Mr Apichart said.

ENDS:
© John Le Fevre, 2008

The English Daily Telegraph story taken from this article can be read here:
daily-telegraph-uk

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Thailand ‚Ä¢ Thailand tourism ‚Ä¢ Thailand travel ‚Ä¢ Thailand tourism ‚Ä¢ Thailand politics ‚Ä¢ Thailand riots ‚Ä¢ Tourism/travel industry ‚Ä¢ International affairs ‚Ä¢ Bangkok ‚Ä¢ Phuket tourism ‚Ä¢ Pattaya tourism ‚Ä¢ Chiang Mai ‚Ä¢ “Yellow Shirts” ‚Ä¢ PAD ‚Ä¢ Peoples Alliance for Democracy ‚Ä¢ Thailand Government House
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John Le Fevre

Thailand editor/ managing editor at AEC News Today

John Le Fevre is an Australian national with more than 40 years experience as a journalist, photographer, videographer and copy editor.

He is currently Thailand editor/ managing editor for AEC News Today

Opinions and views expressed on this site are those of the author’s only. Read more at About me

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One Response to "Thailand losses its smile"

  1. wiseguy2u   November 30, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    John:

    You’re a professional writer, and I am just a weekend blogger. But if I were to take a crack at writing a headline, it might look like this:

    The Land of Smiles Becomes A Land of Terror and Anarchy

    For several days now, tens of thousands of innocent foreign travelers have been held hostage in Bangkok, effectively imprisoned in a foreign county by an armed mob that has taken over an international airport, as well as a second that serves domestic travelers. Thousands of miles away from their families, their homes, their children, their jobs, these citizens of foreign countries — Thailand’s guests — are being held against their will .. in most any language and in any civilized country, such acts are called kidnapping and indeed, qualify as a very potent form of terrorism.

    The failure of the Thai government and its Armed Forces to protect Suvarnabhumi International is damning. The airport should have been protected just as foreign embassies must be protected by the government of any host nation. Those travelers flying in and out of the airport are citizens of foreign governments and deserve protection and assistance. Yet, by all appearances, it is only the airport authority and Thai Airlines who initiated efforts to evacuate passengers through U-Tapao military airport.

    As a foreigner, I am loathe to point fingers or to assign blame, but a few things seem to be coming into clear focus. The takeover of the Suvarnabhumi International Airport could not have been done without the implicit approval (or forbearance) of the Thai Army. Moreover, police efforts have achieved little, and the Army has done nothing to date to remove the pistol packing PAD squatters and restore the airport to service. With the Thai PM not sure of his mandate or authority on a daily basis, little seems to be coming from the top in the way of leadership. And this only adds to the crisis.

    While it is true that unlike the horrors recently unfolded in Mumbai, India, travelers have not suffered death or grievous physical injury, their involuntary confinement is, nevertheless injurious and cruel. Not knowing their fate, when or if they will get out of Thailand, has no doubt instilled deep wounds on the psyche of many innocent tourists and businessmen. All the while visas are expiring, personal funds are dwindling, children remain separated from their families. Once they do get out, many will never return, and for others it may years or even decades before coming back to Thailand. As for foreign investment, a stable government is a prerequisite before Baht one. Who in their right mind would invest in Thailand today?

    It is time for the Army to step up and do its job. To formally ask for orders from the Prime Minister to assist the police in evicting the PAD mob from Bangkok’s two airports; and the PM must give those orders clearly and unequivocally. That’s his job. His fear of a coup and loss of power is no excuse not to do his duty.

    If the restoration of the airports can be done peacefully, that would be ideal. Bring passenger buses to the airports and offer the demonstrators a safe ride home. But if the authorities are met with gun fire, grenades, spears or other dangerous missiles, then the authorities have every right to defend themselves, with commensurate force if need be. Order must be restored; criminals and terrorists must be routed out, arrested and jailed.

    Either you have order or you do not. And every day that transpires without order, Thailand’s future as a democracy as well as a viable economy will continue in a downward spiral that will lead to a future far more terrible than the status quo the PAD has railed against these many months.

    Reply

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