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Thailand’s Tour Operators Brace for Downturn

  • Ron Corben

A Thai classical dancer touches up her makeup before performing at the Erawan shrine, site of Monday's deadly blast, in Bangkok, Aug. 21, 2015. Thai tour operators fear the unsolved attack will deter visitors.

A Thai classical dancer touches up her makeup before performing at the Erawan shrine, site of Monday's deadly blast, in Bangkok, Aug. 21, 2015. Thai tour operators fear the unsolved attack will deter visitors.

In Bangkok, security has been tightened in a bid to reassure locals and visitors after the deadly blast on Monday at a religious shrine that left scores dead and injured. But authorities appear to have made little substantial progress in tracking down the alleged bomber, leaving tourism industry operators fearful about the impact in the months ahead.

Thai authorities increased security across the capital Friday, with police and military units taking a higher profile and patrolling at tourism sites popular with overseas visitors.

A statue of Hindu god Brahma remains damaged from Monday's deadly blast at the Erawan shrine in Bangkok, Thailand, August 20, 2015.

A statue of Hindu god Brahma remains damaged from Monday's deadly blast at the Erawan shrine in Bangkok, Thailand, August 20, 2015.

But authorities reported little official progress in their investigation. It has mainly focused on the grainy image of the suspected bomber, a young man who police have described as a foreigner seen leaving his backpack at the shrine shortly before the blast.

A police sketch of the individual has been posted widely on the Internet and at major transportation hubs. But, despite interviews with the taxi drivers who took him to and from the blast site, no further information about him has emerged some four days after the attack.

An unknown number of foreigners bearing a resemblance to the police sketch have turned themselves in or have been detained. All have been cleared.

Travel warnings issued

More than 20 countries have issued travel warnings to their nationals to be vigilant while visiting Bangkok.

Thailand’s tourism sector has braced for a downturn, especially from the key China market. Many of the injured and killed were Chinese or of Chinese descent, a fact highlighted in China’s media.

Over the past six months, visitors from China increased by more than 100 percent to 4 million arrivals, spending $5.4 billion in Thailand, according to tourism authorities.

FILE - Vendors sell trinkets in a tourist district of Khao San Road in Bangkok, May 27, 2014.

FILE - Vendors sell trinkets in a tourist district of Khao San Road in Bangkok, May 27, 2014.

Laurent Kuenzle, chief executive officer of Asian Trails, said the China market would be one of the most sensitive to react to the bloodshed.

Bookings had remained steady with few cancellations, he said, but hotels in Bangkok’s Chinatown had reported a high cancellation rate among tour groups from China.

Outlook unclear

The outlook remains uncertain heading into the peak holiday season ahead of Christmas, Kuenzle said: "Right now is not the booking season for most people — from what the impact on new bookings will be, I really cannot say at the moment."

As the country heads into its peak tourism season in the months ahead, tourism authorities are planning road shows to build confidence, especially for visitors from South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and China.

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