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Thai Tourism Industry Acts Swiftly to Reassure Safety of Foreign Visitors - 2002-11-02

Thailand's tourism industry has reacted swiftly to allay fears that the country's resorts are not safe following the October 12 terrorist attack in Bali, Indonesia. The move comes after several, mostly Western, countries issued travel warnings covering Southeast Asia and named Thai tourist spots, including the popular tourist destination of Phuket.

Thailand's tourism industry has stepped up efforts to reassure visitors of adequate security after several nations announced upgraded travel alerts, warning of possible terrorism attacks.

The travel warnings were issued after the deadly October 12th bombing on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, that killed nearly 200 people, mostly foreign tourists. Local operatives of the al-Qaida terrorist network have come under suspicion.

Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai has criticized the alerts by Britain, Denmark, Australia, Portugal and Japan. He says the advisories are vague in describing the increased risk of terrorist threats and have been causing panic.

Foreign Ministry spokesman, Isorn Pocmontri, says "rather frustrated with these warnings which we have found to be based upon intelligence rather than reality. Thailand has stepped up its security measures to ensure maximum public security and hopefully this will convince the travelers that we are safe and sound."

The travel warnings come as Thailand's tourism industry is gearing up for the peak Christmas-New Year period.

The tourism industry contributes some five billion dollars to the national economy, from the more than 10 million visitors expected to arrive by year's end. The country normally expects more than one million tourists in December alone.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand, or TAT, has stepped up its efforts to convince overseas travel agents that sufficient security is in place. TAT's Mana Chovthum says "we are quite sure for Thailand as a whole the security problem is under control now and should be no problem for any tourists to come to Thailand."

Tourist police patrols have been beefed up with Thailand adding more local police as well as Thai Army soldiers in major tourist venues. Security forces have been deployed at 85 oil depots and six refineries nationwide after U.S. intelligence warnings such sites could be targeted by terrorists. Increased security measures have also been implemented at airports.

For the major resort hotels, the warnings have triggered a wave of concerned calls, raising fears of widespread cancellations. But so far cancellations have been limited mainly to long haul travelers from Europe.

Director of Marketing and Sales for Le Meridien Hotels and Resorts in Thailand, Stephane Laguette, says he is angered that governments are not giving travelers and the tourism industry better information about possible threats, leaving everyone feeling uncertain. "Personally, I think you mention everything or you mention nothing," he says. "If there is the information and there is a risk, let's say exactly what and where."

Mr. Laguette says since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, fewer travelers have booked vacations in advance. And since last Month's post-Bali warnings, bookings to the Le Meridien resorts here have almost stopped.