Bangkok's International Airport Officially Reopens


Ron Corben

Thailand's main international and domestic airports in Bangkok have officially reopened - the first step in the recovery of the country's tourism industry. Political protests had closed the runways for eight days, stranding hundreds of thousands of people.

Thai dancers, puppet theater and traditional music greeted passengers Friday as Bangkok's international airport formally reopened.

The ceremonies marked a first step toward recovery for the tourism industry after eight days of protests by the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy closed Bangkok's airports.

Court ban led to end of siege at airports

The siege ended Wednesday after a court banned Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and his party from politics because of election law violations.

The protests stranded more than 300,000 travelers.

Tourism accounts for about six percent of the country's economy, and in 2007 14 million people visited. Officials warn that could be cut by half next year, in part because of the protests. 

New ad campaign hopes to revive tourism

Santichai Euachongprasit, a marketing executive for the Tourism Authority of Thailand, says a new advertising campaign will start soon.

"A public relations [campaign], a strong message that we can take to the world that our situation is coming back to real normal and this is going to make the public have confidence in coming back to Thailand," said Santichai.

Somsong Sachaphimukh, is the general manager of the travel agent, S.S. Group. She is confident that European travelers will be among the first to return to Thailand.

"I can say that 80 percent will come back to Thailand because of the hospitality they have received from the Thai [people]. Thai Airways and the TAT they joined hands to really help the tourists," she said.

Airport flight schedule not yet back to normal

Although airport officials say the facilities are ready to go, not all airlines have rescheduled flights. On Friday, the international facility handled about two-thirds its normal daily load of 700 flights.

Australian traveler Gary Radcliff was ready for his flight.

"I'm very pleased about it. I'll be glad to get home. I was going out Thursday a week ago. Under the current circumstances I've got no complaints," he said.

But, he adds, he will wait until Thailand's political situation calms down before returning.

Thailand is politically deeply split. Coalition parties tied to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra are strongly backed by rural and working class voters.

But the PAD and other groups, made up largely of the educated middle class, accuse Mr. Thaksin of being corrupt and authoritarian.  The PAD vows to resume its protests if the next prime minister is too closely linked to Mr. Thaksin.

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