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November 28, 2008

Crisis hit Thailand’s image, tourism
Thailand's tourist sector has taken another beating from the siege of Bangkok's airports by anti-government protesters, with losses mounting at tour operators and airlines as both locals and tourists cancel trips, reported Reuters.

The closure of the $4 billion Suvarnabhumi international airport since late on Tuesday has forced the cancellation of hundreds of fights and stranded thousands of tourists. The domestic Don Muang airport was also closed on Thursday.

The protesters have been waging a street campaign for six months against an administration that it sees as the puppet of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was removed by the military in September 2006 and now lives in exile.

Some airports in the south were briefly closed by protests in August.

The tourist industry could lose 76-120 billion baht ($2.2-3.4 billion) in revenue if the turmoil continued for another month, the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce said.

Thailand is banking on 600 billion baht in revenue from 15.5 million tourist arrivals this year, after 14.5 million last year. Next year it expects 16 million tourists to visit the "Land of Smiles", home to some of Asia's best beaches.

"Tourist targets? They're history now," Tourism Minister Weerasak said. "We're not talking about the loss figures as our country's image has been completely destroyed. This is real bad."

However, private analysts are scaling down arrival forecasts.

Asia Plus Securities said arrivals could be below 14.5 million this year and it expected the number to fall 10 percent to about 13 million in 2009.

"The political woes could damage the country's image and the global economic slowdown may put pressure on the number of tourist arrivals in Thailand next year," the broker said.

In the first 10 months of the year, the number of foreign arrivals at Suvarnabhumi airport rose 2.4 percent from a year earlier to 8.52 million.

But the number fell 15 percent in July-October as travellers were scared off by emergency rule in September and political violence in October, when two people died and over 400 were injured.

The international airport handles over 100,000 visitors a day, 70 percent of whom are tourists, Weerasak said.

Thai Airways said it expected losses of more than 500 million baht a day from the airport closures. Its share price traded at 7.45 baht on Thursday, near an all-time low.

The tourist sector directly employs 1.8 million people and brings in the equivalent of 6 percent of gross domestic product, making it a major engine of economic growth, already suffering from slowing exports caused by the global economic slump.

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