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Thailand suffers another blow to its image

11 Apr 2009

There may have been no repeat of the Suvarnabhumi Airport shut down, but cancellation of the Asean Summit dealt just as big a blow to Thailand’s image, which continues to be eroded by civil unrest.

The biggest victim: tourism, which has perennially raked in handsome revenue for the country. Players in this arena warned that yesterday’s brouhaha could cause business to plummet by at least 30 percent.

Kongkrit Hirunkit, president, Tourism Council of Thailand, said that foreign visitors would not be faulted for thinking the government could not guarantee their safety since it failed to prevent the protesters – “Red Shirts”, sympathisers of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra – from storming the conference venue in Pattaya.

With the industry still recovering from various mass rallies staged last year by the pro-government “Yellow Shirts”, which culminated in the Suvarnabhumi take over, this latest incident is exacerbating recessionary woes. The tourism sector, which generates about 540 billion baht (US$15 billion) annually, could lose up to 200 billion baht (US$5.6 billion) this year, pundits believe. About 2 million people work directly and indirectly in Thailand’s tourism industry.

Prakit Chinamourphong, chairman Thai Hotels Association, said holding a tourism roadshow now was not the solution, and was, in fact, “pointless because people in other countries may already have lost confidence in Thailand”.

Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency at 1400 yesterday afternoon in Pattaya and Chonburi Province to allow safe passage for several Asean heads of state, who were confined to their rooms when protesters broke the glass in the media section of the Royal Cliff Beach Resort and poured in. Helicopter transfers to U-Tapao Airport had to be arranged for the VIPs whose respective planes were parked at the mlitary airbase. The situation was declared normal at 1915 last night.

According to the Thai Authority of Thailand’s new information website, www.tatnews.org, “public utilities and communication services operate uninterrupted, contrary to reports of possible disruptions” and “hotels and other travel-related infrastructure and services, including all airports, train services throughout the country and roadways are operating as normal”.

In Pattaya, it said, visitors could contact the Tourist Police hotline 1155 if they had any concerns. If elsewhere, they could call tel 66 2250 5500 ext 4545 to 48 or email prdiv3@tat.or.th 

Margie T Logarta

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