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What are we waiting for?

By David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs 12 June 2010

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This past week in Bangkok was pure delight.

Although much of the rest of Thailand is suffering from drought conditions, Bangkok received several evening and early morning showers that helped bring the temperatures down. This has been a great break from the April-May period, when temperatures soared both climatologically and politically.

Tourists are slowly and I emphasize slowly, reappearing on Bangkok streets, no doubt lured by the reduced prices on practically everything in the tourist sector, notably the cost of flight tickets and hotel room rates.

Shopping has never been better in the eight years I have lived here with prices down on almost everything, including wines. Thailand has notoriously high import duties on wine, but somehow, merchants are discounting the bottles.

Spearheaded by Thai Airways, free tickets will be offered to celebrities and other opinion makers to visit “The Land of Smiles” to assure the rest of the world that Thailand is just that after going through a difficult time from March through May.

With all of this positive momentum, isn’t it about time that the many countries that have posted travel warnings, started removing them. There has been some revision downward on the part of the Hong Kong, Australian, Vietnam, Philippine and U.S. governments but most of the travel warnings have not been lifted since the protests reached a peak on May 19 and most have not been downgraded.

Piyasvasti Amranand, president of Thai Airways, alone, had sustained a loss of 3 billion baht (US$92 million). It is also estimated that losses to the Thai tourism industry that accounts for 8 percent of the country’s economy were in the same range as the losses to the national air carrier.

In Thailand and other Asean countries, the “high” tourist season is November through the end of March with hotel rates moderating after that time. These rates will be even more moderate during the coming months in Thailand.

A recent survey of Thai consumers indicated that confidence had started to rebound in May. Perhaps some of that Thai optimism can spread across the borders of Thailand to attract visitors to this beautiful and interesting country.


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