Agencies in HK scrap all tours to Bangkok

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 April, 2009, 12:00am

Travel operators in Hong Kong yesterday cancelled all tours to Bangkok until next Wednesday after the government issued its first travel warning since the 1997 handover, affecting some 3,000 travellers.

The travel warning was issued on Monday in the wake of violent demonstrations in the Thai capital. A government spokesman said: 'We will continue to monitor developments there closely and issue updated information as and when required.'

The Travel Industry Council yesterday met travel operators and decided to cancel all package tours to Bangkok until April 22, executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung said. 'Even though the protesters called off the siege this afternoon, the situation in Bangkok is still very unclear,' Mr Tung said.

All the travellers affected by the cancellations can get a full refund, but will have to pay a service charge ranging from HK$150 to HK$300.

It is estimated that 3,000 travellers in 150 package tours will be affected, including 500 people who booked with Hong Thai Travel Services, and 200 with EGL Tours.

One travel writer said the changing situation in Bangkok this time was too 'dramatic' for travel agencies not to act. 'I saw the red-shirted demonstrators singing, dancing and splashing water yesterday at the Government House protest area after several days of confrontations with the army with petrol bombs,' Thailand-based travel writer Roger Wu Wai-chung said.

Shopping malls, including Siam Paragon, resumed business yesterday after being forced to close.

Red-shirted protesters were told to go back to rural hometowns but nobody knew when they would return, Wu said.

Hong Thai general manager Susanna Lau Mei-sze said travel operators were 'in a very difficult position in this Thailand crisis' because half of the travellers were insisting on going ahead with their holidays while the other half were refusing to go.

'We hope the government will create a more detailed classification on overseas emergencies. A mechanism between the travel industry and government should be set up in the future,' Ms Lau suggested.

Steve Huen Kwok-chuen, managing director of EGL Tours, proposed setting up different travel alerts such as Level 1, 2 and 3, so that the public and travel industry could understand better the seriousness of the alert, rather than the current two tiers of classification: 'advice' and 'warning'.

The tourism industry said the travel warning issued by the government was the first since the handover. 'Only travel advice was issued during the September 11 attacks,' Mr Tung said.

Meanwhile, a Cathay Pacific flight was upgraded to a bigger aircraft yesterday to provide 50 more seats from Bangkok to Hong Kong, and 19 Hongkongers, assisted by the government, reserved seats for the flight.

Bangkok's international airport was still operating normally. A total of 42 flights, with 10,000 seats, departed for Hong Kong yesterday and today.

Hong Kong Airlines announced that passengers with tickets to Bangkok for flights between today and Sunday could obtain a full refund without a fee.