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Thailand Tourism Loses Approach 35 billion Baht (US $1.1 billion)
 Due to Anti Government Protests

Some Wonder Why Thais Insist on Being So Self-destructive
Bangkok Post, ThailandMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

April 12, 2010 --The tourism sector has lost more than 35 billion baht due to the intensifying mass anti-government rally and the bloody confrontations on Saturday between red-shirt protesters and security forces.

The Federation of Thai Industries (FTI), which made the tourism claim, also predicted the violence could take one per cent from the 2010 gross domestic product.

"Tourism and service businesses, restaurants, souvenir shops and shopping malls near the rally sites [at Ratchaprasong intersection and Phan Fa bridge] are all affected and could lose over 35 billion baht in total," FTI deputy chairman Thanit Sorat said on Sunday.

He said the GDP could drop a per cent from the government's forecast. The government predicted that the country's economy would expand by four to five per cent this year.

"More people from the middle class and businessmen would likely side with the red-shirt protesters after there were many casualties following the violent crowd dispersal yesterday," Mr Thanit said.

He said the loss of lives, regardless of any political colours, would cause difficulties for the government in dealing with the demonstrators.

Mixed reactions amid the red sea - Bangkok Post

One of Bangkok's most crowded and active thoroughfares has been turned into a sea of red since Saturday morning, when tens of thousands of anti-government protesters crowded into the area in a bid to force Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva from office.Luxury hotels such as the Grand Hyatt Erawan and the InterContinental Hotel are now surrounded by barricades, while the doors to Gaysorn Plaza, CentralWorld and Siam Paragon remain shut. Many companies with offices in the area simply gave their employees the day off yesterday because of the difficulties in reaching the area. Street vendors have also fled, due to the difficulty in transporting supplies and the disappearance of normal pedestrian and tourist traffic.

But while business leaders have condemned the protests, views from the street are more mixed, reflecting the complexities of the political and social conflicts that have fractured the country for several years. Some pedestrians, tourists and locals expressed frustration, others resignation. Almost no one felt fear, at least not in broad daylight.
Tourism operators, who have already suffered years of political setbacks, expressed frustration at the latest shock to one of the country's largest industries.

"We have lost many millions of baht over the last three days from the demonstrations. Our occupancy rate has fallen under 50% compared to 80% earlier," said Chris Bailey, the senior vice-president for sales and marketing at Centara Hotels & Resorts, the operator of the Centara Grand at CentralWorld.

Annabelle Daokaew, the public relations manager of the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok, asked why Thais insisted on being so self-destructive.

"We are very worried about the current situation. Earlier this year, we saw some recovery signs for the business, but now ... we can only try to explain what happened to our guests and try to take care of them as much as we can," she said.

"Many of our guests have been quite upset about the situation."

Tourists and locals have also expressed apprehension and frustration about the protests. Anika Julin, a Swedish national who has lived in Thailand for six months, said she didn't pretend to understand the nuances of local politics, but thought mass street rallies were hardly a constructive way to press for change.

"It's terrible. I think it's a very strange way to express their opinions like this. Thailand already suffers from economic and traffic problems, and it will get worse if they don't stop. I just wonder why they are doing this," she said.

"I believe that many Thais don't really like what the red shirts are doing right now. I only hope the situation improves. I love Thailand and I wish all the best to the country and Thai people."

Louis Jean, a French tourist who arrived in Bangkok on Sunday, found the situation puzzling.

"I had an appointment with a friend to meet at Amarin Plaza, but it was closed. I didn't know what happened, just that there were many people wearing red on the roads," he said outside Gaysorn Plaza.

Mr Jean offered a wry grin. "I'm not worried. Demonstrations in France are normal. I think this protest is peaceful compared to what happens in France."

Across the street, Somporn Pakkaranu, a security guard at the Thao Maha Phrom shrine outside the Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel, said it was mostly business as usual.

"It's an ordinary day. The demonstration hasn't caused any problems," he said. "Everything is still fine. Foreign tourists still come to worship, and I don't think they are worrying too much. I saw one tourist buy a red shirt."

Mr Somporn, whose political leanings are in sympathy with the red shirts, said he was confident that the protest would remain peaceful.

"If there is any violence, I think it would come from the government. If [prime minister] Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolved Parliament, then all the problems would be solved."

But Ning, a 46-year-old garland stall owner a few metres away, offered a different opinion. "I have been selling garlands here at the shrine for over 30 years. The rally has affected business for sure," she said. She estimates that sales have halved to only 500 baht per day.

He said a House dissolution proposal did not seem to be an appropriate solution at first but it could now be the answer.

"This is the time for the junior coalition parties to make a decision whether they will leave or remain with the Democrat-led government because everyone in the country is looking at them right now," he said.

He said the political violence had obliterated the country's investment atmosphere and the tourism industry would take a long time to recover again.

China's Dragon Air has cancelled all flights to Thailand until the political situation returns to normal, he added.

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To see more of the Bangkok Post, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.bangkokpost.com/.

Copyright (c) 2010, Bangkok Post, Thailand

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