Tourism sector fears protest effect
CHADAMAS CHINMANEEVONG & CHATRUDEE THEPARAT
Tourism operators are feeling the effects of protests to topple Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and say they could hurt the country's image and drag the sector down.
Natwut Amornvivat, president of Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), said he was concerned about the violent movement as it hurt the country's image and spread negative images around the world.
''We must keep an eye on the situation to see how it will end. Many events will not be cancelled, but some participants may not want to come to Bangkok,'' he said.
In the worst case, he said, bloodshed would cause TCEB to miss its Mice (meeting, incentive, convention and exhibition) business target.
''It's difficult to outline future plans,'' he said. ''The agency will have to work harder to boost the country's reputation again in the Mice sector.''
Mr Natwut added that if political instability ended with the house's dissolution, TCEB would be affected in other ways, including the delay of a budget allocation by the new government. Some budgets could be reduced, which would be an obstacle to promoting Mice business in the long term.
Mr Prakit Chinamourphong, president of the Thai Hotels Association (THA), agreed with Mr Natwut, saying the growing political instability was hurting tourism and hotel businesses.
''If the government and PAD don't compromise and think about the interests of the country, the problem will drag on and hurt the economy,'' said Mr Prakit.
During the first seven months of 2008, average hotel occupancy was 68%, up from 67% last year.
''If we had no political problems, the average occupancy would reach 70% or 80%,'' Mr Prakit said.
But Jennifer Cronin, vice-president for sales and marketing of the Dusit Group, was still optimistic that yesterday's PAD rally would not lead to bloodshed.
''Tourists are familiar with the protests as this kind of political movement has taken place in many western countries for years. The protests in Thailand are not as serious as in many countries,'' she said.
This year, the number of corporate, leisure and Mice tourists to Thailand continued to rise, despite PAD protests taking place since May.
Apichart Sankary, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA), said tourists who have already booked tour packages might cancel their trips if they felt unsafe. But he said no cancellations have been made yet, as it is still too early to make any decision.
''The protest might deter tourists who plan their trips in the high season between October and December,'' he said.
If the turmoil ends in two or three days without serious violence, he forecast that the impact would be unlikely to be felt by Thailand's tourism in high season.
The committee of the ATTA is scheduled to meet today to consider the latest PAD protest. Mr Apichart also called on both the government and PAD to solve problems in a peaceful way.