Thursday, March 6, 2014

Thailand: Embassies Blamed for Declining Tourism, Yet PM Has Had Months to Stabilize Nation

According to The Wall Street Journal, travel industry leaders say that negative advisories because of political turmoil have significantly dented one of Thailand’s key industries, with the number of overseas visitors plummeting by nearly a third in the first two months of 2014 compared to a year earlier, according to the Association of Thai Travel Agents.

Thus far, 48 countries whose combined travelers represent 92% of foreign tourists, have issued warnings for their citizens traveling to Thailand to “avoid rally sites” or to “exercise a high degree of caution.” Hong Kong issued a warning urging its residents “to avoid all travel to Bangkok.”

Clearly, tourism is one of Thailand’s most important economic engines. As many as 26.7 million foreign tourists visited in 2013 and tourism revenue reached 1.25 trillion baht ($38.36 billion), according to the Tourism Council of Thailand said.

But months of anti-government protests have made 2014 look less than optimistic. To date, 21 people have been killed in clashes between police and protesters or in drive-by attacks near rallies seeking the ouster of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, 46.

Amid months of such news and warnings, the Finance Ministry reported that the number of tourist arrivals via the main Bangkok airport February 1-24 contracted 19.6% from a year earlier.

“It is now forecast that, under current circumstances, Thailand will likely be losing around 500,000 overseas visitors by the end of the first quarter,” said Pornthip Hirunkate, a vice president of the Tourism Council of Thailand.

Ms. Pornthip added that if the unrest drags on, the number of overseas visitors for the first half of 2014 could fall by as many as 1.1 million, leading to an estimated revenue loss of 90 billion baht ($2.76 billion). 

COMMENT: The number of visitors from East Asian countries, especially Hong Kong, China and Japan, has tumbled severely. 

The Association of Thai Travel Agents said that there have been almost been no group travelers from Hong Kong since the beginning of the year. Group holidaymakers from China, the largest source of foreign visitors in 2013, plunged more than 60%.

The stark truth is that the only tool available to foreign embassies is their ability to issue candid and transparent travel warnings to their citizens as they impact on a country's internal affairs.

The fact that 48 nations representing 92% of travelers have issued travel warnings to their nationals clearly demonstrates that the Prime Minister has had four months to stabilize her country and has failed.

Whether by action or inaction, the PM has demonstrated that she cares more about her brother, Thaksin, 64, who, as PM, was ousted by the Thai military in 2006, than the Thai people, all of whom she has been sworn to protect.

It is very easy for those who have vested interests in Thailand's tourism industry to blame foreign embassies (who have a responsibility to their citizens), yet it is clear that Thailand's executive leadership already has blood on their hands for not making the correct choices.

The fact that PM Yingluck has been forced to seek refuge outside of her appointed posting, Bangkok, is a strong indicator that she does not possess the commensurate leadership skills to effectively run a sovereign nation. What Prime Minister would go into hiding in her own country?