|By Chadamas Chinmaneevong, Bangkok Post,
ThailandMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 4, 2008 - Protracted political problems are damaging the whole tourism industry, which could result in the country missing its target of 15.7 million foreign visitors this year, says the new president of the Thai Hotels Association.
Prakit Chinamourphong said nobody wanted to travel to a country where there was political uncertainty.
"When people want a journey, that means they want to stay in safe and peaceful places. If the problem persists, Thailand will be at a disadvantage against its competitors such as Singapore and Malaysia," he said.
The local political climate remains tense with protracted demonstrations by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) against the five-month-old administration of Samak Sundaravej. The public is also unhappy with the government for failing to deal with inflation.
In the first four months of the year, the average hotel occupancy rate was 71 percent, compared with 69 percent in the same period last year, according to THA data. The increase should be higher if the Tourism Authority of Thailand's target for a 10 percent rise in arrivals is to be met.
Mr Prakit forecast that travellers to Thailand this year would be the same as in 2007, at around 13.8 million.
"If the [political] problems are worked out soon, tourist confidence will be restored in six months. Under a bad scenario, if problems end in bloodshed, I can't forecast how long it will take for confidence to come back," he said.
All opposing parties must think about the benefits of the country first, he said.
The association's biggest concern is that new foreign arrivals travelling for meetings may hesitate to visit Thailand again, but select other countries such as Singapore and Malaysia.
Mr Prakit said any impact on the convention business would spill over into other areas related to tourism. The problems will become obvious next year if tourists and organisers decide not to select Thailand. "There is no problem so far because they have already booked [this year's trips] and can't cancel."
Of particular concern is the upcoming meeting of the International Telecommunication Union, scheduled for September in Bangkok. As many as 25,000 executive visitors and their families are expected and a cancellation or withdrawals could result in major revenue losses, according to Mr Prakit.
Looking at the country by region, Mr Prakit said hoteliers in Chiang Mai were struggling because of an oversupply of rooms. Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a Chiang Mai native, had pledged to promote the northern province as a regional tourism and investment hub and investors responded, but now many rooms are going empty.
Mr Prakit said the government should seriously promote existing Chiang Mai attractions such as the site of the 2006-07 Royal Flora exhibition and Night Safari instead of creating new locations.
In the South, he said local mafias remained a serious problem in Samui, Phuket and Krabi. As well, local authorities were poor in law enforcement.
"Many foreign tourists asked me how property developers could trespass on the hills. They build resorts and residences there," he said. "That is horrible for the Thai tourism industry. If they do not realise the value of nature, they will have nothing one day."
He added that many hoteliers in Hat Yai, Yala and Narathiwat had closed their businesses due largely to the violence in the southernmost provinces.
"I feel sorry for them. Nobody can resolve such problems, including the government," he said.
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