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Thailand political stalemate hits economy, business

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Thailand political stalemate hits economy, business
A poll conducted earlier this week indicated tourists remain unconcerned over the ongoing political turmoil in Thailand, reported Thai News Agency, which belies serious impact suffered by the tourism and other businesses.

The survey conducted between September 2-5 among 532 foreign investors and tourists by the Assumption University's ABAC Poll found as many as 97 percent of the respondents saying they would revisit this country again if the opportunity opens while 98.9 percent of the respondents said they would ask their relatives and friends to visit Thailand.

Airlines and hotels reported cancellations after Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej imposed a state of emergency September 1 after fatal clashes between pro- and anti-government rivals left one dead and dozens injured, prompting countries including

Singapore and South Korea to warn their citizens against non-essential travel to the kingdom.

Thailand's economic growth slowed for the first time in more than a year last quarter and the central bank expects the expansion to ease further in the second half as protests against Samak's seven-month-old government hurt sentiment and keep investors away.

Anti-government protests forced the country’s second-busiest airport in Phuket to close for 43 hours from August 29 to 31, which cost the Airports of Thailand (AoT), operator of the nation's main airfields, about 5.7 million baht ($172 million), according to the agency’s acting president Serirat Prasutanond.

Thailand might have struggle to meet its target of attracting 15.7 million tourists this year, an earlier report from Bloomberg said.

About 9.3 million tourists visited the country in the first seven months of the year, and hotels had an occupancy rate of about 56.4 percent in July, according to the Bank of Thailand. Thailand aims to raise 600 billion baht from tourism this year.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is keeping to its targets for now and may revise them later after it assesses the impact on the industry, said the agency’s spokeswoman Kaneungnit Chotikakul.

On Friday, TAT deputy governor Juthaporn Rerngronasa said the agency was  closely monitoring political unrest and had coordinated with its overseas offices so that they could explain the situation in the country to potential foreign visitors.

The TAT chief said that the agency advised tourists to engage in activities such as shopping and visiting tourist spots which not in the areas where protest demonstrations occur.

However, a number of international tourism agencies and airlines had canceled visits to Thailand due to some tourist-oriented provincial airports being closed, she said, adding that information given to TAT's overseas offices could improve the confidence level for tourism operators and tourists alike.

Meanwhile, a report issued by Kasikorn Research Center said Thailand could lose as much as 70 billion baht in tourism revenue from foreign visitors if political unrest in the country continues into the fourth quarter of 2008. The kingdom earns about 600 billion baht annually from foreign tourist spending.

In a related report, local daily Bangkok Post quoted transport operators as saying on Friday that the damages due to work closures at Klong Toey, the main post in the capital by Port Authority of Thailand (PAT) workers had cost then one billion baht since September 3.

The paper quoted Thongyu Khongkant, secretary of the Land Transport Federation, as saying that economic losses totalled 450 million baht each day in terms of revenues of the PAT and the Customs Department, together with the higher expense of transporting cargoes from Bangkok to Laem Chabang port, 120km southeast of the capital.

''The figure does not include damage from losing business opportunity and reputation in the eyes of overseas trade partners,'' said Thongyu, who is also the president of the Import-Export Transport Association.

The Klong Toey port has been closed since Wednesday as the PAT labour union has gone on strike as part of the anti-government protests led by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD).

The strike has forced about 4,000 containers loading in Bangkok every day to be re-routed to Laem Chabang port in Chon Buri and private ports, at an average cost of 4,000 baht per container.

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