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Bangkok explosion may derail the lifting of the State of Emergency but not tourism recovery

Luc Citrinot, eTN  Jul 26, 2010

As the situation seemed to be widely normalized in Bangkok and the rest of Thailand, a bomb explosion last night in the city center reminded that the peace that prevails in the country might be only an illusion. The bomb exploded in a very symbolic area in front of Big C Department Store in Ratchadamri, opposite Central World Mall. The glitzy shopping center was partially destroyed by a fire last May following the Red Shirts occupation of the Ratchaprasong area.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has promised to find the culprit of the bomb, which killed one person and wounded many others. The casualty is likely to jeopardize a quick lifting of the State of Emergency, which was put in place during the Red Shirts demonstrations. State of Emergency enforcement gives wider powers to the police to arrest people suspected of illegal political activities capable of threatening the security of the country. The decree is still in place in Bangkok and 15 other provinces, including most of the northern provinces, which are considered the most faithful to previous Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, today Thailand’s public enemy number 1. According to newspapers, the National Reform Committee, a think-tank institution chaired by former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, has called on the government to lift the decree, saying it jeopardizes the government's reconciliation efforts and could breach people's rights.

The bomb so far remains an isolated incident and is unlikely to derail tourism recovery since the middle of June. A week ago, the Tourism Authority of Thailand released figures for the first half of 2010. And it was a pretty good surprise: despite Bangkok's violences of April and May, international visitors from January and June were up by 13.7 percent compared to the same period of 2009, from 6.61 million to 7.52 million.

According to the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, the largely positive figure has been influenced by the strong downturn of the first half of 2009 due to the economic crisis, making this year’s rate of increase relatively high over a low-base figure. However, as numbers of visitors to Bangkok faltered, arrivals remained relatively buoyant to Phuket and in other seaside destinations. Most markets showed growth during the first half of the year with the Middle East topping the chart at +22.1 percent, followed by South Asia (+16 percent), Europe (+15.9 percent), Rest of Asia (+12.3 percent) and the Pacific (+11.9 percent). With the launch of recovery programs and a broad range of promotional packages, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) remains optimistic about meeting its target of 14.5 million arrivals by year end. For TAT Governor Suraphon Svetasreni, strong economic growth in major markets stimulates tourist arrivals, especially in countries such as China, India, Russia, and Indonesia.

Bangkok explosion may derail the lifting of the State of Emergency but not tourism recovery
Bangkok business district / photo: L. Citrinot

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