Thailand's turmoil rubs salt in wounds of HK travel sector

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 November, 2008, 12:00am

Paralysis at Bangkok airport spoils short-haul strategy

The political turmoil in the Thai capital and the paralysis at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi international airport has rubbed salt in the wounds of Hong Kong's travel industry.

Amid the financial meltdown, the industry was already expecting big drops in outbound travel by Hongkongers, especially long-haul trips that cost more than short-haul journeys, Joseph Tung Yao-chung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council, said.

'To compensate for the loss of long-haul travel, we wanted to promote some short-haul tours, especially to Thailand, which is always a favourite destination for Hong Kong people,' he said.

But the political turmoil in Thailand has scotched those plans, at least for now.

The travel industry is gearing up to attract more business as Christmas and New Year are traditionally the peak season for travel, with many Hong Kong people opting to leave the city on holiday.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand said tourist arrivals from Hong Kong last year totalled 367,862, a 2.33 per cent decline compared to 2006.

In 2006, Hong Kong visitors stayed in Thailand an average 4.82 days and spent an average US$127 each per day, which generated US$284 million in tourism income for the country.

'Thailand, especially Bangkok, has been the hot travel spot for Hong Kong people due to its proximity, nice beaches, fine weather, cheap food and accommodation,' Mr Tung said.

'We really feel very unlucky about the [political unrest] and hope the turmoil can end as soon as possible.

'Right now, there is not much we can do. We may try to promote other Southeast Asian cities to attract more people to go travelling.'

Michael Wu Siu-ieng, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Travel Agents, warned that both the Christmas and Lunar New Year peak travel seasons would see fewer customers and lower tour prices.

The numbers signing up for long-haul tours over Christmas were expected to fall as much as 8 per cent and for short-haul packages by up to 12 per cent year on year, Mr Wu said. The cost of long-haul tours would drop by 15 per cent and that for short-haul packages by up to 10 per cent.

He said there had been increased demand for tours to Beijing and Taiwan, pointing to the likelihood that some travellers to Thailand had changed their holiday plans because of the political turmoil.

'Overall, total outbound business for Christmas will probably shrink by 10 per cent to 20 per cent,' Mr Wu said. 'The outlook for Lunar New Year will likely be the same.

'Obviously, this is bad news since business gets pretty quiet after Lunar New Year. We were counting on strong Christmas and Lunar New Year sales to make up for this.'