Thursday, December 25, 2008

Kooky Foreign Minister Kosit Piromya's Fun Antics Have Real Consequences for the Thai Economy


Ed Copley


Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) boss Phornsiri Manoharn estimates the 8-day closure of Bangkok's $4 billion Suvarnabhumi airport by anti-government protesters a month ago will have caused one million foreign visitors to cancel or go elsewhere.

"This is the hardest hit we've ever encountered in the 48 years we've been promoting tourism to Thailand," she told Reuters, saying the airport shutdown put the December 2004 tsunami, bird flu and SARS in the shade.

With arrivals numbers for the key holiday month of December likely to be 500,000 -- a third of forecasts -- the TAT's ambitions of attracting 15.5 million tourists in the whole of 2008 and 16 million in 2009 are lying in tatters.

Far from enjoying the 70 percent occupancy they normally see in December, Bangkok's top hotels are 25 percent full, forcing management to close floors, lay off contractors and ask staff to take unpaid leave.

At the height of the airport blockade, one luxury hotel was rumored to have had just one room occupied.

"It would be fair to say that this will be the lowest monthly occupancy we've experienced in the history of the hotel," said Wayne Buckingham, managing director of the 740-room Royal Orchid Sheraton on the banks of Bangkok's Chao Phraya river.

Particularly hard hit has been the hotel corporate and conference business, which is more sensitive than individuals to the travel warnings issued during the airport occupation, the climax of months of sometimes violent political confrontation.

"People have been through tough times in Asia before and they've got out of it at the other end, and we'll do as well. It's just that this one will take a bit longer," Buckingham said, estimating 12-18 months before things "return to normal."

With the export-driven economy already feeling the pinch from the global economic slowdown, many analysts believe the airport protests by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) may prove to be the decisive factor in tipping Thailand into recession.

All that excellent food and entertainment that Kosit enjoyed during the PAD's seizure of the airport is going to cause millions of Thai people in the tourist industry to suffer.

I have been reading about other tourist areas and resorts that have been suffering because of the general downturn in the economy, so Thailand would be suffering regardless, but the airport closure only exacerbates the problem. On the bright side, if you have money, this is probably a good time to visit Thailand.

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