ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Tourists avoiding Thailand
The severe flooding coupled with foreign governments' advisories against travel to Thailand has begun to take its toll on passenger traffic through Suvarnabhumi airport.
Passenger numbers at Bangkok's main airport started to decline during the last week of October, falling by 7 percent year-on-year, and the decline is likely to become more pronounced as flooding problems intensify, scaring more international travelers off.
"The drop-off in passenger numbers started on October 25 after holding steady over the previous 24 days," said Somchai Sawasdeepon, a senior executive vice-president of Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT).
Before the deluge began affecting Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi was handling about 130,000 passengers on 800 flights per day.
Airline executives have also begun to see falling bookings and cancellations for travel to the country, where flooding is being perceived internationally as on the same scale as Hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans in 2005, thereby fostering fear.
Several carriers have already slashed their frequencies through Bangkok, and further cutbacks are looming on the horizon.
Cathay Pacific has reportedly halved its Bangkok-Hong Kong service to two flights a day, while Orient Thai Airlines has suspended its daily flight on the same route covered by a Boeing 747 jumbo jet.
The moves come as more Hong Kong tourists cancel their journeys in the wake of their government raising its travel advisory bar for Thailand to "red".
"We are witnessing a virtual standstill of traffic from North and East Asia _ China, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong," Udom Tantiprasongchai, the founder of Orient Thai Airlines, which concentrates on that region, told the Bangkok Post.
The flag carrier Thai Airways International (THAI) is pondering a similar move, possibly cutting back service on some routes such as to Colombo and Hat Yai, said an airline official.
Suspension of the Bangkok-Athens route is also being considered, but that is due mostly to the economic crisis in Greece.
Mr. Somchai of AoT conceded it would be difficult to woo back traffic.
"The message we're trying to put across is that not all of Thailand has been flooded. Tourists can still use Suvarnabhumi to hop over to their favourite destinations such as Phuket and Chiang Mai, which are flood-free," he said.
AoT is also trying to dispel the grave perceptions abroad that Suvarnabhumi is next in line to be flooded after Don Mueang airport was forced to close a week ago.
"We're highly confident that our flood protection will prevent any halt to the operation of Suvarnabhumi," said Mr Somchai.
He added that experts from Japan and Germany endorsed that statement after inspecting the flood protection barriers just days ago.
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