People avoid trips to Bangkok at Natas fair

Visitors at the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) fair on 2 March 2014. A total of 54,275 visitors attended the three-day event and about $80 million in sales was generated.

The Bangkok Shutdown may have ended, but people are still staying away from the Thai capital, as underlined at this past weekend's travel fair.

There was a 30 per cent dip in bookings at the Thailand booth over the three-day National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) fair, which had 1,047 booths covering 161 exhibitors. It ended yesterday.

Tourism Authority of Thailand (Singapore) director Kanokkittika Kritwutikon said this was "because of the situation in Bangkok", where more than 20 people have been killed since November in protests against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

But Bangkok's troubles have not led to an overall drop in tourism to Thailand, she said. Month-to-month figures show that the number of tourists from Singapore have been climbing. This went up by 17.25 per cent in January, compared with the same month last year.

"People are avoiding Bangkok but they are going through other Thai gateways," she said.

"There is still Chiang Mai, Phuket, Krabi and Samui which remain popular. As the protests dwindle in Bangkok, we expect the numbers to pick up quite quickly later this year," she said.

Politics kept bookings on the low side for Bangkok, but boosted numbers in a far less-frequented country - North Korea. Universal Travel Corporation, the only local agency authorised to organise tours there, had about 50 people signing up for an eight- day tour at the fair, compared with none at last year's event.

"At this time last year, tensions were high between North and South Korea, but this time round, the fair comes after both sides had the first reunion for divided families in more than three years. People are more interested in a North Korea that appears more stable," said UTC managing director Khoo Boo Liat.

Packages for more exotic destinations such as Kazakhstan or Iran as well as tours for the Northern Lights and Trans-Siberian Railway also fared well, reported travel agencies.

Overall, there were 54,275 visitors and about $80 million in sales over the fair's three days, compared with 53,344 and $85 million to $90 million last year.

hpeishan@sph.com.sg

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