Hongkongers heading to Thailand avoid Bangkok as anti-government tensions build
Some tours cancelled due to threat of violent protests
Scores of Hongkongers heading to Thailand for the Lunar New Year holiday will not stop at Bangkok as anti-government protesters ratchet up the pressure on Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down from office.
Overnight, gunshots rang out across the heart of the city in an apparent attack on anti-government protesters early on Wednesday which wounded two people, and a small explosive device was hurled at the residential compound owned by the former PM Abhisit Vejjajiva, shattering windows and damaging the roof.
The ongoing Bangkok blockade has gridlocked commercial and tourist districts of the city, although many areas of the 12 million-strong capital still remain largely unaffected by recent troubles.
The recent spate of mass gatherings on the streets, which has seen tens of thousands voicing opposition to the government, has remained jovial, with a mostly party spirit, as protesters dig in.
Watch: Two wounded as shots fired on Bangkok protest
A meeting convened by the Travel Industry Council earlier today to assess the latest situation in Bangkok said safety was the top priority for travellers who continued with their plans to visit the country.
Joseph Tung Yao-chung, the executive director of the Travel Industry Council, said: “I have made it very clear that travel agencies have to look at two aspects: safety of the passenger and secondly, to minimise the loss [to customers].”
The council said that a number of agents have decided to cancel their tours in the Lunar New Year, but the decision is not a unanimous one.
Tour group holidays have been suspended since December as demonstrations have rumbled on.
Wing On Travel, one of the biggest travel agencies in Hong Kong, said all tour group holidays to the capital Bangkok were suspended until February 7 and currently most customers affected by the suspension have opted to switch their booking to northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. A spokeswoman for the company was unable to say how many customers had been affected.
Last year, Hongkongers made more than 604,000 trips to Thailand.
The change of itinerary limits a downturn in tourism over the lucrative peak Lunar travel period. Tourism contributes some eight per cent to economic growth.
Fringe groups Network of Students and People for Reform of Thailand, closely linked to the main party spearheading attempts to overthrow the government, had vowed to storm key assets in an attempt to maximise disruption.
Protesters from splinter factions said they could lay siege to facilities such as the Aeronautical Radio of Thailand, or Aerothai, which operates the majority of civilian and military air traffic over and across Thailand. The country’s main stock exchange is also under threat.
However, a spokesman for the People’s Democratic Reform Commission told the Bangkok Post it had no intention for its allies to create further chaos.
With the air traffic operations a target, it could cause far more disruption than the siege of Bangkok’s main airports in 2008 which left thousands of travellers stranded. In November 2008, hundreds of activists seized control of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport and Don Muang Airport, shutting down operations for more than a week.
Air carriers including Cathay Pacific, with more than 30 daily flights and its own crew operations in Bangkok, face the biggest knock-on affect if protesters finally lose patience.
“Cathay Pacific continues to operate scheduled flights to Bangkok as normal,” a spokeswoman for the airline said. “However there may be ad-hoc cancellations to align with demand. We are closely monitoring the development. Passengers can read the travel advice on our website for the latest update and more details.”
A spokeswoman for the Security Bureau said the red outbound alert for Bangkok, the second highest travel warning, would remain in force with continuing demonstrations in the capital. The travel warning remains on amber, the lowest risk advisory issued, for the rest of the country.
Any Hongkongers visiting Bangkok should avoid non-essential travel or adjust travel plans. However, “those already there should monitor the situation, attend to personal safety and avoid protests and large gatherings of people,” according to the latest guidance issued.
Several episodes of political unrest have occurred in Thailand since the prime minister’s brother Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup.
Additional reporting by Associated Press