Thailand expects to see big drop in business travel

13 Apr 2009

Business travellers, already spooked last year by the series of civil protests and shutdown of Suvarnabhumi International Airport by the Thailand’s “Yellow Shirts”, were given another reason to stay away from Thailand with the rampage of the “Red Shirts” in Pattaya and their subsequent regrouping in Bangkok, which led to violence this morning.

“Corporate groups have already cancelled for the rest of the month and up to May,” said Nicholas Tse, general manager of the Courtyard by Marriott, citing the various travel advisories plus graphic images of this latest round of citizen unrest as the final nails on the coffin for any hope of recovering international confidence. Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was forced to declare a state of emergency in Bangkok when the military and the Red Shirts clashed in the early hours of the first day of Songkran, the Thai New Year i the busy Din Daeng intersection. A second round of hostilities erupted just about lunchtime near the Victory Monument.

The Asean Summit in Pattaya last weekend, which was seen as an image booster for the country, ended in chaos when supporters of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra rammed the glass doors in the convention centre, forcing the conclave to be cancelled and some heads of state to be evacuated by helicopter.

Tse said, the Summit was the only significant event planned this year, a fact, he attributed to corporates preferring to take a wait and see attitude concerning Thai politics.

Meanwhile, Roel Constantino, director of sales and marketing, Shangri-La Bangkok, said the hotel's long-haul leisure groups that had come in to experience Songkran were still game to stay on. “We just tell them to be mindful of their movements, and avoid places such as Government House (a favourite rallying point for both the Yellow Shirts and Red Shirts) and the Victory Monument. Otherwise, many parts of the city like the shopping malls are still functioning normally."

After the previous months’ upheavals, hoteliers in Bangkok have grown philosophical. Said Tse: “We can only prepare so much. There’s not a lot we can do now, except perhaps, keep a sense of humour.”

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Margie T Logarta

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