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Political unrest, travel warnings cripple Thailand’s troubled tourism industry

Political unrest cripples Thailand’s tourism industry

BANGKOK, Thailand (4 Sep 2008) — Arrivals of foreign tourists in Thailand are down 30 percent, the Association of Thai Travel Agents said Thursday, blaming the drop on a state of emergency declared three days ago in the capital.

Bangkok’s international airport normally receives an average of 8,000 to 10,000 foreign visitors a day, the group’s president, Apichart Sankary, told reporters.

But arrivals now are 30 percent below average, he said.

“The political turmoil has badly affected the travel and tourism business in Thailand,” Apichart said, adding that 14 countries have issued warnings about travel here.

He said the fall-off in arrivals began after Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej declared a state of emergency in Bangkok on Tuesday following bloody clashes between rival activists that left one of Samak’s supporters dead.

The decline is already costing Thailand 400 million baht (11.7 million dollars) a day in lost revenue, Apichart said. On an average day, the country earns about 1.5 billion baht from tourism.

“Most of the foreign visitors are tourists who expect to have a good time in Thailand. If the government cannot resolve the problems properly and quickly, we may see a weaker future for the business,” he said.

Last weekend anti-government protesters calling for Samak’s resignation shuttered three key tourist airports for two days, stranding thousands of travellers. Rail services in southern Thailand have also been disrupted for a week.

Apichart said the closure of the airport in Phuket alone caused losses of about 750 million baht.

Tourism generates about six percent of the national economy, and Thailand had expected the industry to earn about 600 billion baht (17.5 billion dollars) this year.

But industry groups fear the ongoing protests could spark even more cancellations, just as the peak tourism season here begins in October.

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