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Pattaya Daily News

05 January 2007 :: 19:01:42 pm 26023

Give Thailand a chance

The last three months has seen 3 major developments which have changed Bangkok’s and Thailand’s image as a great party venue: 1. the coup which overthrew Thaksin Shinawatra; 2. the imposition of martial law; 3. the New Year’s Eve bombings.
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The present government fears that these events could have an adverse effect on tourism. But this seems like a storm in a teacup.

Thaksin’s overthrow came as the final chapter in what was essentially the middle class’s disenchantment with the prime minister’s policies, albeit through the instrumentality of the military. Yet, during the previous anti-Thaksin protests, there was no violence on the streets as there might have been earlier. The coup itself was bloodless and merely represented a glitch in the smooth running of government. In the provinces, for instance, Pattaya, the coup hardly raised eyebrows. Although in the hinterland, like Esarn, the bedrock of Thaksin’s support, Thaksin’s overthrow was not received so well.

The imposition of martial law was basically a strategy to prevent Thaksin supporters from staging a counter-coup, and it will soon be lifted. It hardly seems to have affected the capital, where the tanks and armed troops have long since quit the streets.

Still no one has claimed responsibility for the bombings in the capital. The rival claims oscillate between Thai Muslims in the South and frustrated Thaksin supporters. Mr Thaksin, for his part, has denied any involvement in the bombings, pointing the finger at the Muslim extremists in the South, while castigating the government – “The government did not admit that it was the work of the militants in the south, because if the government did admit that, it would show the failure of their new ‘olive branch’ approach to the conflict.” And as for the Muslim themselves, they have remained silent. Only time will tell.

Bad as the bombings were, the number of dead and injured was relatively small, probably due to the authorities’ prompt action in canceling mass public gatherings. One also has to accept that these violent incidents were the first to occur in Bangkok for several decades.

In an attempt at damage control, Mr Suvit has instructed the Tourism Authority of Thailand offices around the world to explain the bombings and draw up a damage-control plan, reported The Nation. Before the blasts, the country had expected tourist arrivals to rise to 14.8 million from 13.8 million last year.

The other potential nightmare of the tourist industry that of recurrent tsunami, doesn’t seem to have radically affected tourist numbers. But the fact that the government has invested heavily in tsunami warning systems has been given wide publicity.

In Jamaica, a major tourist venue, despite the initial effect on tourism of Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, tourism looks set to enjoy solid growth for the foreseeable future and there’s no reason to assume it will be any different for Thailand on that score.

Now several countries — including Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States — have issued travel advisories to their citizens. They have also warned that more attacks were possible in coming days, although so far no more have been forthcoming.

One also has to take into consideration the switch in tourists’ preferences. Many have opted for Eastern Europe as an alternative to Thailand, travel time and relative cheapness of flights and costs of living being cited as an explanation for the switch.

Certainly, the fact that many see the present government as puppets of the military has not served to increase investor confidence, nor have the confused messages issuing from the Immigration Department as regards visas and foreign ownership.

Whether there will be a long term impact on the tourist industry depends on what happens on the violence front in the next few weeks and months. But one suspects the industry will soon recover, though perhaps not until a suitably elected government has taken office.

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : Internet   Category : Tourism News

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