Another tough year ahead for Thailand's tourism if martial law stays

The tourism industry is expected to face another tough year if the government maintains martial law, the head of the Tourism Council of Thailand said yesterday.

Meanwhile, the TCT has drafted several strategies aimed at providing relief to the tourism and travel sector in the current quarter.

"There's only one condition that will really help prevent the tourism industry from even worse circumstances, and that is the lifting of martial law. If the government continues enforcing the law, the country's tourism and travel business may face harder times through the coming year," said Ittirit Kinglake, president of the council.

The number of international arrivals at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport from January to September dropped by 19 per cent compared with the same period last year. Arrivals during the nine months came in at 9.1 million, against 11.3 million a year ago.

Other key tourism associations such as hotel and inbound bodies have also predicted that the sector will post a sharp decline this year, in the region of 15-20 per cent.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) earlier lowered this year's target for foreign-tourist arrivals from 28 million to 25 million, while the number is forecast to rebound to 28 million next year.

"Martial law is definitely hurting tourism, and there is still no sign of it being lifted," Ittirit said.

He said many countries had kept in place travel advisories issued after the military coup in May. As a result, travel operators overseas have shifted to selling other destinations such as Vietnam and the Indonesian island of Bali, as well as emerging countries like Myanmar.

To boost foreign-visitor numbers and relieve the industry in the current high season, the TCT has prepared three strategies, which are focused on tourists' safety, marketing, and a special plan to restore Koh Tao's image after the murder of two British tourists on the resort island last month.

On the safety front, the council will ask the Tourism and Sports Ministry and other official bodies to draw up safety measures not only on Koh Tao, but at all major attractions, Ittirit said.

More investment in closed-circuit television cameras and manpower is also needed, while local people will be invited to join teams of officials from Bangkok with a view to boosting safety and security at holiday locations, he added.

The council also plans to join forces with the private sector in launching attractive promotions to boost tourism in Bangkok and other key destinations during the peak season, because of slow bookings for the October-to-December period.

One of the short-term marketing strategies is to attract tourists from neighbouring countries during weekends. The TAT last week launched a martial-law tourism measure called "24-Hour Travel" in a bid to draw repeat tourists from the region.

In regard to a special plan aimed at rebuilding Koh Tao's image, the TCT chief said operators in the island and local administrative bodies would offer incentive packages to attract tourists, while major events are also being prepared.

However, detailed image-restoration plans may be extended from the originally planned period through to November, as the murder case is still at the investigation stage.

"The murder case has been drawing great attention, so providing information on the issue is the best that can be done at this stage," Ittirit said.