Thai coup likely to worsen downturn in tourist industry, a big earner

Curfew and travel alerts following military takeover will deepen the gloom for Thai tourism operators, though first reports say situation calm

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 May, 2014, 11:16pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 May, 2014, 5:47pm

Even before yesterday's military coup in Thailand, tourists were already shunning Bangkok's bustling night life and "James Bond Island" near Phuket because of months of political turmoil. The army takeover will only make things worse.

The army was quick to announce a nationwide curfew from 10pm to 5am after taking over power to restore order.

Foreign arrivals had already dropped 4.9 per cent in the first four months of this year from a year earlier, to 8.62 million, according to Thai authorities.

Hong Kong tour agencies will meet today to decide whether to go ahead with future tours to Thailand after the city's government issued a red travel alert to avoid all non-essential travel. Even before they met, Hong Thai Travel Services announced that two tours to Bangkok, comprising 31 people, due to begin today had been cancelled but that two other tour groups would travel to Phuket as planned.

Steve Huen Kwok-chuen, executive director of EGL Tours, which has four groups of 60 holidaymakers in Bangkok, said: "It will depend on how the situation develops, but of course our major concern is the customers' safety.

"We will ask customers not to go out at night."

Joseph Tung Yao-chung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council, said his group had not received any requests for help from Hong Kong tourists in Thailand.

Tour operators have painted a bleak picture of Thailand's tourism numbers since the political turmoil began six months ago.

"It's not good for Bangkok and not good for tourism in Thailand," Mario Hardy, chief operations officer at the Pacific Asia Travel Association in Bangkok, said on Wednesday before the coup was announced.

"Tourism is a huge income [generator] for the country, so this is not helping."

Tourism accounts for 10 per cent of Thai GDP, which shrank 0.6 per cent in the first quarter from a year earlier as a result of unrest that began more than six months ago. The state planning agency this week cut its forecast for 2014 economic growth to 1.5 per cent to 2.5 per cent, from a range of 3 per cent to 4 per cent earlier, citing the nation's "political problems".

Over the past eight years, Thailand's travel industry has been battered by turmoil pitting the army and establishment figures against the populist former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies.

On Tuesday the army imposed martial law nationwide after months of political turmoil that brought down Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister, and tipped the economy into a contraction. Yesterday army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha announced a coup d'état live on television.

"Things were starting to get better, but unfortunately this [martial law] announcement is going to put the situation back to where it was a few months ago," Hardy said before yesterday's takeover. "Hotels are now worried that travel advisories will impact their business again."

Annual arrivals reached an all-time high of 26.7 million in 2013, a 20 per cent increase from 22 million a year earlier. Films set in Thailand, including 2011's The Hangover Part II and popular 2012 Chinese film Lost in Thailand have amplified the kingdom's appeal overseas.

Bangkok, which hosts more than half of the foreigners coming into the country, posted a 14 per cent decline in visitors in the first four months of this year. But until now tourism outside the city has held up.

Tourism from Asia has fallen the most, with the number of visitors from China, Japan and South Korea down a fifth from a year ago in the first quarter of this year.

Hotels reported average room occupancy rates of 58 per cent in March, compared with 72 per cent a year earlier.


  • Hongkongers in Thailand who require assistance may call the 24-hour assistance hotline of the Immigration Department on (852) 1868 or call the the 24-hour consular protection hotline of the Chinese embassy in Thailand on (66) 854833327.


Bloomberg, Reuters