Hong Kong travel agencies cancel Bangkok tours amid unrest

Hong Kong travel agencies cancel Bangkok tours amid unrest
A Thai anti-government protester throws a tear gas canister back to the police during an ongoing rally outside Government House in Bangkok on December 2, 2013.

HONG KONG - Hong Kong travel agencies said Monday they were cancelling most package tours to Bangkok because of anti-government protests, after authorities issued a travel warning for the strife-torn Thai capital.

The Hong Kong government issued a "red" outbound travel alert on Bangkok, the second highest in its three-tier warning system, while other Asian countries urged citizens to exercise caution as turmoil continued on the streets.

"Residents intending to visit Bangkok should adjust their travel plans and avoid non-essential travel. Those already there should monitor the situation, attend to personal safety and avoid protests and large gatherings of people," a Hong Kong government spokesman said in a statement.

Hong Kong is particularly sensitive to the safety of its tourists. A travel alert on the Philippines remains in place three years after a hostage crisis in Manila killed eight Hong Kong residents.

A lower "yellow" warning has been placed on the rest of Thailand.

Police in the Thai capital used rubber bullets and water cannons against rock-throwing demonstrators after weekend unrest left several dead and more than a hundred wounded.

Roads were blocked across the city and shopping malls forced to close. "After the Security Bureau raised the warning to red, the vast majority of Hong Kong travel agencies have decided to cancel tours," Travel Industry Council director Joseph Tung told reporters.

Most cancellations will affect tours scheduled to depart in the next seven to ten days, with up to 1,000 tourists expected to be impacted by mid-December, he said.

In India the Association of Tourism Trade Organisation, which represents about 50 large and medium tour operators, said it had seen a slump in travel to Thailand since the start of the unrest.

"We are noticing more than a 50 per cent drop in tour packages and also cancellation of tickets for Thailand because of what is going on there," said association consultant Sreejitha, who uses one name.

The governments of India, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore advised citizens to avoid protest zones and stay vigilant, but stopped short of issuing a travel warning.

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