Asia Briefing: Thailand weighs up impact of shrine bombing on tourism

The government is hoping tourists will forget the blast before the season begins in October

Thai soldiers inspect the scene after a bomb exploded outside the Erawana shrine in central Bangkok

Thai soldiers inspect the scene after a bomb exploded outside the Erawana shrine in central Bangkok

 

The bomb that devastated the Erawan shrine in downtown Bangkok recently can be expected to have an effect on an economy previously seen as almost invulnerable despite upheavals, unrest and natural disasters.

Bouncing back after the explosion is going to be tough for the country. The blast killed 20 and injured 125, and took place at the Ratchaprasong intersection, one of the capital’s busiest tourism hubs, surrounded by luxury shopping malls and five-star hotels.

Two of the dead and 28 of the wounded came from China, while two victims and two wounded came from Hong Kong. At least five of the dead were Thai. Others killed or injured came from Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines. Tourism accounts for nearly 10 per cent of GDP, but indirectly the true figure is close to 20 per cent, and employs millions.

Irish visitors

Chiang Mai

Ireland was one of 23 countries that issued travel advisories following the bombing,

The military took over in a coup last year, but despite rule by decree, foreign visitors to Thailand hit 2.3 million in June, a 53 per cent increase on last year.

The coup leader, former army leader and now prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, recognised the seriousness of the attack, calling the bombing “the worst incident” ever to hit the country. “This time they aimed for innocent lives. They want to destroy our economy, our tourism,” he said.

The vast number of Chinese tourists has helped offset the negative impact of nearly a decade of political instability.

The Thailand-China Tourism Authority (TCTA) surveyed its 200 travel agent members and found that the numbers had not dropped off since the bombing.

Sun Lichan from Haitao Travel told the China Daily that the Erawan shrine was less popular with tour groups than it used to be.

Chinese travellers have been spending less time in Bangkok in favour of the islands and those Chinese who spend time in the capital want to visit only the most famous sightseeing venues such as the Grand Palace, she said.

“So this attack basically has no direct influence on group travellers,” she said.

However, a poll in the China Daily showed that more than half of respondents would not travel to Thailand because of the bombing.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is keeping up its efforts to woo foreign visitors to the country, and will attend fairs in Hong Kong and South Korea this month, while the Thai Association of Travel Agents will push on with roadshows in five cities in China in September.

“We’ll use the fairs as venues to update potential tourists about the real situation in Bangkok and Thailand so they can understand the situation and not be afraid to travel here,” Srisuda Wanapinyosak, the East Asia director of TAT, told the Bangkok Post.

The increased focus on tourism is also being driven by the decision this month to devalue the Chinese renminbi currency. Timing is everything, with high season coming in two months. The country’s finance minister Sommai Phasee said he was “praying that tourists will forget about this incident” by October.

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