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4 Apr 2005


Restive South Worsened By Earthquake: A Blow to Tourism, 2005


The Tsunami tragedy has not only destroyed Andaman coastal tourist attractions but also traumatized both local and foreign travelers. Thus, efforts to lure tourists back to those coastal tourist spots seem to have borne little fruit. In 2005, Thai tourism will likely remain plagued by numerous negative factors. Specifically, they are:
  • Unrest in the three southernmost provinces that has adversely affected inbound tourism to Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Had Yai;
  • Surging oil costs that have dealt a blow to travel-related costs. However, in the midst of an unfavorable tourism market and intense competition, some tourism-related businesses have shouldered the rising costs themselves through cost reductions in unnecessary expenses in order to retain customers;
  • Tough rivalry from other Asian countries launching tourism promotion-related packages at special, inexpensive prices to attract foreign visitors away from Thailand that is still affected by the Tsunami crisis.

Aside from the aforementioned negative factors, the worst is not over for Thai tourism. The powerful earthquake on the night of March 28, 2005, was the latest culprit adding to the moribund tourism, already hit by the Tsunami tragedy only three months ago. The latest natural disaster has greatly undermined confidence of many who had believed that the next Tsunami might be several hundred years away. Under these circumstances, some travelers have delayed their travel plans to Thailand's tourist attractions along the Andaman coast, or shifted to itineraries elsewhere for security reasons.

Worse still, three bomb blasts occurred almost simultaneously in Songkhla province only six days after the earthquake. They were located:
  • In front of Carrefour Supermarket, in Hat Yai, Songkhla province
  • At Hat Yai International Airport, Songkhla
  • On the grounds of the Green World Palace Hotel, Muang District, Songkhla.

Unremarkably, inbound tourism to Had Yai has been deteriorating since the violence in the Deep South began. Simply put, foreign arrivals to Had Yai fell 4.4 percent to 1.04 million in 2003 and plunged as much as 18.4 percent to 850,000 in 2004. Thus, it is undeniable that the latest bomb blasts will inevitably rock tourism to Had Yai, particularly during the upcoming Songkran festival.

If the unrest in the three southern provinces, including Songkhla, is still not solved, it is expected that for the entire year of 2005, foreign tourists travelling to Had Yai will drop by at least 20 percent, or almost 200,000 persons, causing Had Yai a loss in tourism income of not less than Baht1 billion.

Guidelines to solve the aforementioned tourism problems in 2005 include the following:
  • Expedite setting up quick and efficient warning systems for natural disasters and systems that evacuate people to safety in a timely fashion from all seaside tourism destinations, not only those along the Andaman coast.
  • Expedite promotion of other tourism venues in Thailand, particularly the many seaside tourism venues along the Gulf of Thailand that have complete international-standard services to support tourists. This would also increase alternatives for foreign tourists who like beaches, but want to avoid the Andaman coast, at present.
  • Tighten security in populated areas in all important tourist cities, not only in three Southern provinces and Songkhla.
  • Expand marketing to high-potential groups such as the Chinese tourist market, which is a large market that has favorable economic fundamentals, as well as marketing in the Middle East for tourists from oil-rich countries that have high purchasing power.
  • Organize interesting tourism activities to expand the market for quality tourism within niche markets such as MICE (meeting incentive conventions and exhibitions), health-related tourism, sports, shopping tours, the long stay market, etc. Although these markets are small, they have high purchasing power and these channels can grow further.

If related agencies in both the state and private sectors cooperate in expediting problem-solving under the above guidelines, it is expected that Thai tourism now trending toward sluggishness in the first half of 2005 will improve in the latter half of the year. Therefore, overall for the entire year of 2005, around 11.53 million foreign tourists are likely come to Thailand, dropping 1 percent from 2004, and generating tourism income to the country of around Baht370,000 million, increasing 2 percent over the income in 2004.