Thai Tourism to Lose $5.35bn: Govt

BANGKOK ~ Thailand could lose US$5.35 billion in tourism revenue and millions of visitors in 2009 following its latest bout of political turmoil, a government spokesman said this week.

Violent street protests, the storming of a regional summit being held in a Thai coastal resort and ongoing emergency measures have all hit the sector hard only weeks after other demonstrations shuttered the kingdom’s airports.

The government forecast a tourism revenue shortfall of 190 billion baht ($5.35 billion) this year, with 3.2 million fewer visitors to Thailand as a result of the unrest.

“The revenue from tourism could drop 35 percent… to only 350 billion baht from 540 billion baht in 2008,” deputy government spokesman Vachara Kannikar said, announcing the forecast compiled by the Tourism Council of Thailand.

Earlier premier Abhisit Vejjajiva said the cabinet would focus on improving tourism by extending incentives “such as reduction of visa fees, flight landing charges and national park entrance fees for another year.”

Abhisit said he had instructed the finance ministry to review credit measures for tourism businesses and said the government would plan a new overseas roadshow to promote Thailand and reassure visitors of their safety.

Speaking after the meeting at which the figures were presented to ministers, spokesman Vachara said the foreign ministry was also trying to persuade 22 countries to lift travel warnings imposed since the crisis began.

“The most serious is the Chinese government which asked its nationals to leave Thailand immediately when unrest broke out,” Vachara said.

He said the Tourism Council of Thailand had urged the government to take urgent steps to prevent an estimated 275,000 industry job losses amid a reduced visitor intake of 10.9 million in 2009, down from 14.1 million registered last year.

The kingdom’s tourist-friendly image was dented by a nine-day seizure of Bangkok’s airports at the end of last year that left thousands stranded, and was further affected by rallies held by rival demonstrators last week.

The latest protest ended with the storming of a regional summit in a Thai coastal resort before campaigners had running street battles with armed troops enforcing a state of emergency in Bangkok.

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