Military coup puts Thailand’s Gulf tourism push on defensive

Thailand's tourism agency tries to assure international tourists as the political situation takes a toll on the sector.
Commuters take pictures of soldiers gathered at Bangkok's shopping district. Damir Sagolj / Reuters
Commuters take pictures of soldiers gathered at Bangkok's shopping district. Damir Sagolj / Reuters

Thailand’s biggest ever tourism offensive in the Middle East has been turned into a crisis management campaign as a military coup scares visitors away.

Tourism chiefs had expected bumper arrivals from the region after a major presence at this year’s Arabian Travel Market and roadshows to Bahrain and Oman.

But now travel warnings from countries that include the UAE, United States and United Kingdom threaten to take a brutal toll on the country’s tourism sector as travellers cancel bookings.

The Royal Thai Army yesterday changed its nationwide curfew to start at 4am from 1am. Besides political centres of Bangkok and Chiang Mai, popular beach destinations such as Phuket, Pattaya and Ko Samui are also observing the curfew. It does not apply to travel to and from the main airports. Long-distance bus and train services have been suspended.

One major Thai hotel chain has had bookings fall by a fifth.

Dusit International, which manages 13 hotels in Thailand, has had about 20 per cent of bookings cancelled this month, said Catherine McNabb, the vice president of sales and marketing.

Until recently, the political situation affected mostly Bangkok due to the rallies held in the city, while the hotels in the rest of the country remained largely unaffected, she said.

“However, since the coup d’état was declared last week and the curfew was imposed nationwide, we have seen approximately a 20 per cent drop in forward bookings throughout our properties in Thailand.”

Eight per cent of Dusit Thani’s bookings in Thailand come from the UAE.

“Travellers might cancel their holidays and go elsewhere,” said Gaurav Sinha, the founder and chief executive of a branding agency that works in destination management. .

The Tourism of Authority of Thailand has been issuing bulletins to update travellers on the security situation in the country.

“All attractions in Bangkok and other tourist destinations throughout Thailand are open and operating as per normal,” said Chalermsak Suranant, the Dubai director of the country’s tourism authority. “But curfew has been observed, particularly at tourism-related venues that normally close after 10pm.”

Thai tourism authorities expect to revise visitor numbers this year down to 26.3 million instead of the 28.4 million that was forecast. That would represent the lowest tally in five years.

Etihad Airways advised passengers booked on its early morning EY407 flight, which departs Bangkok during the curfew, to present their passports and tickets to the military if stopped on their way to Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Emirates Airline, which operates seven daily flights to the country has not yet seen a major impact.

“Our passenger loads are healthy, and Thailand continues to be a strong destination for business and leisure,” said a spokesman.

Thailand received 26.7 million tourists last year, up 19.6 per cent.

The Middle East accounts for 2.3 per cent of tourist arrivals to the country, but that had been forecast to grow sharply.

The UAE still contributes the largest number of visitors to Thailand, though Saudi Arabia and Egypt are its fastest growing source markets. Last year, the country drew 124,000 visitors from the Emirates, up almost 8 per cent on the year earlier

ssahoo@thenational.ae

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Published: May 28, 2014 04:00 AM

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