Thailand Bulletin For Monday, August 20
Roundup of Thailand news with AJW
Weather 33C; Hot, cloudy, 60 percent chance rain; Euro:US 1.2333, Euro:Baht 38.86, SET Index: 1219
- Phuket Tiger Disco Fire: 2 Thai females, a British man, and a Frenchman are feared to have perished. In Bangkok, Pol. Lt. Gen. Charamporn Suramanee, Assistant National Police Chief, said yesterday that initial examinations showed that two of the victims were Asian females and the other two were Caucasian males.
- The opposition Democrat Party has launched a broadside against the Pheu Thai-led government, labeling its first year in office a failure on several fronts.
- WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, urged President Barack Obama to end the US "witch-hunt" against his whistle-blowing website, in a speech Sunday from the balcony of Ecuador's London embassy.
-A music video by pop singer, Beyonce, helped inspire one billion messages for World Humanitarian Day on Sunday, which the United Nations said was a social media record.
- The eurozone crisis returns with a vengeance this week after a brief respite for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, kicking off an election campaign year she has said will be won or lost on the single currency. France and Germany have both been forecast to slip into recession in 2013, adding further to worries in the Eurozone.
- QANTAS: The embattled chief of Qantas Airways, Alan Joyce, said Monday he would forgo any bonus or pay raise, joining a growing list of high-profile top executives at Australian companies who are doing the same. Qantas is struggling with soaring fuel costs and worsening global conditions and has indicated it will this week post its first annual loss since privatization in 1995.
- SKAL LUNCH BKK: The Bangkok Club will hold its monthly luncheon on Tuesday, August 21 at 12 noon at the Landmark hotel on Sukhumvit Road, please contact: http://www.skalthailand.org/bangkok .
SKAL International Bangkok President Dale Lawrence looks forward to welcoming all members and their guests.
Popular SKAL member, Scott Smith, also celebrates his 45th birthday on the same day. The jovial Hawaiian-born educator is the Director of Young SKAL Thailand and International Councillor for Thailand. Scott led a seminar this weekend with his students and PATA Chapter Chairman Bert van Walbeck, Ben Montgomery, and SKAL International Thailand President, Andrew J. Wood as guest presenters.
Speaking to over 400 tourism students and professionals at Assumption University's Hua Mak campus, students were told to wake up to the enormous job opportunities in Asia. To also be aware of AEC2015 and during a panel discussion of students and private sector speakers (including guests from TTR and Pullman hotels), students were told to study languages and to make every opportunity to network professionally. Students were reminded that attitude and team work were just as important as good grades for success in the hospitality industry.
- WORLD'S MOST EXPENSIVE HOTELS: In a survey of average room rates in 50 major cities, Moscow the perennially pricey Russian capital, came out on top, with a one-night hotel stay typically costing travelers slightly less than US$406.
Moscow has topped the annual study, carried out by UK's Hogg Robinson Group (HRG), for 8 years running. This year, it was almost 20 percent more expensive than anywhere else considered in the analysis.
Lagos in Nigeria climbed to second place in the survey with average room rates standing at US$339 a night, thanks to a “high volume of inbound business travel connected with the oil industry.” The research added that travelers to Lagos were conscious of its “well-documented” security issues and, therefore, more inclined to choose 5-star accommodation.
Geneva, where hotel accommodation will typically cost around US$338, around US$19 less than last year, came third.
Average room rates also dipped in other European cities, including Barcelona (where they fell by nearly a quarter), Madrid, and Dublin.
Stewart Harvey, Group Commercial Director at HRG, said that economic “uncertainty” was “driving down room rates across mainland Europe.”
The largest increases in hotel rates were seen in Latin America. In Rio de Janeiro, which is hosting both the 2016 Olympics and several matches – including the final – of the football World Cup in 2014, prices rose by 15 percent, and in Sao Paulo, they increased by more than a fifth. Mexico City, meanwhile, saw average rates soar by nearly a third.
London rates rose by 5 percent, to US$256 on average, putting it 21st in the study.
- EVENTS: DAVID BARRETT - The former executive of Diethelm Events based in Bangkok, today joins Amari Hotels as Executive Director Events.
- BHUTAN: After years of trying to promote Bhutan as a year-round tourist destination, it was only last year that tourist arrivals during the low season showed marked improvement.
Except for spring and autumn, when the majority of tourists visits the country, winter (December-February) and summer (June-August) tourist numbers drop, even though the daily minimum tariff is at the off-peak rate of US$200.
The least visited months last year (2011) were August, December, June, July, and January, which saw tourist numbers of 13,412; 14,950; 8,380; 8,887; and 4,723; respectively.
In 2010, August saw 6,762 tourist arrivals; while 7,798 visited in December; followed by 4,734 in June; 5,287 in July; and 2,928 in January.
Officials of the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) attributed the increase in arrivals to record arrivals from top Asian markets, like Japan, China, Thailand, and Singapore, whose visits usually spread throughout the year. “The 2011 figures show huge improvements during low season," stated TCB.
To make Bhutan a year-round tourist destination, the TCB secretariat began supporting and introduced events, such as the Haa summer festival in 2010, followed by the nomads’ festival in Nasiphel, Bumthang in February, Takin festival in Gasa in February, Matsutake festival in Ura, and Bumthang in August.
“Making Bhutan a year-round destination would mean higher hotel occupancy, employment throughout the year for tour guides and hotel staff,” TCB spokesperson, Damcho Rinzin, said.
Marketing initiatives by TCB, in partnership with other tourism stakeholders, such as Drukair, hotels and tour operators, include hosting media fam trips.
Bhutan Travel Bureau’s Director, Chorten Namgay, said, compared to past years, tourist arrivals during the low season is improving, because of the promotion of local or village festivals.
- PATA STAR SHOCK DEPARTURE: PATA's management ranks in Bangkok are set to dwindle further with the upcoming departure of Mrs. Ben (Benjakallayanee) Montgomery, Regional Director, Greater Mekong, at the end of September following the PATA Travel Mart in Manila.
Mrs. Montgomery, 38, will join Centara Hotels and Resorts as Director, Strategies Management as of October 1, 2012. Her move comes just 3 months after being appointed to this new post as part of a senior management reshuffle. Mrs. Ben Montgomery has in recent years become the friendly “face” of PATA with her happy demeanor and effervescent personality.
- PHUKET DISCO FIRE: The cause was initially put down to a lightning strike on a nearby electrical generator, but Phuket's electricity authority ruled out claims that a transformer explosion during a storm was to blame for the Tiger Disco fire tragedy, which claimed 4 lives and left 11 people with serious burn injuries. Phuket police said they were still investigating whether the disco was operating beyond the 2:00 am closing time and if the disco, which is decorated with foam sculptures of tigers and snakes, had breached safety regulations because of modifications. The investigation comes after an Australian told of seeing "people running on fire" after the blaze broke out.
The fire ripped through the Tiger club, popular with foreign tourists, in Patong - Phuket's west coast tourist hub - after a lightning strike.
"There are 4 confirmed dead. We believe they are foreign tourists, but it's not yet confirmed," Phuket Deputy Governor Chamroen Tipayapongtada reported.
Australian tourist Mr. Kemp, 26, said on the night of the blaze, "It's been a crazy night like all nights are in Thailand, but things went bad when lightning hit power lines and a transformer exploded five meters away from me causing sparks and blue flames shooting off it. People on fire running out of the club like you would see in a movie," he said, "When I heard the reports of only 4 dead I couldn't believe that. I'm safe just exhausted. Patong is my second home to Darwin, and I had to make sure all my friends were OK."
Four French tourists were among those injured, 30-year-old Benjamin Tallanotte, with burns to 40 percent of his body.
The hospital listed the other Frenchmen treated for less serious burns as Nycolas Robyn, 25; Mathieu Lagrange, 40; and Yasmine Khelaef-Humber, 31; along with 7 Thais.
Survivor Kanyaporn Kantong, 25, who was one of several victims treated for burns at Patong Hospital, said, "Someone pushed me out the door. I owe them my life."
Hundreds of people were in the disco at the time, she said, "We saw the smoke but I thought it was a disco special effect. Then I looked up at the disco ball and saw the flames. We knew then that it was serious. I didn't know which way to go. Luckily, someone pushed me in the right direction."
It took more than an hour for firemen to get the blaze under control.
"We received more than 20 people who sustained injuries from the Tiger pub fire. Most are suffering from suffocation," a hospital worker said, "Two are in critical condition from severe burns. One of them is a French man who suffered burns on his torso. The 4 dead bodies were burnt beyond recognition. We cannot identify even their gender yet."
The fire broke out at the late-night Tiger disco in the town of Patong, a magnet for foreign tourists on the southern island, almost 2 hours after all bars and other venues in Patong are meant to close.
The blaze ripped through the premises at the back of the Tiger complex, exposing beams along about 30 meters of the structure.
A large crowd of onlookers was held back as ambulances backed down the laneway to pick up the bodies in the club, which is on the corner with Soi Bangla.
The manager of the Tiger Discotheque, Tamrongsak Boonsak, said the fire broke out about 2:00 am.
"People was further down Soi Bangla," he said, "We will do what we can to help those who have been injured and to help the families of those who have died."
The fire is the worst in a Thailand nightclub since the fire at the Santika in Bangkok on New Year's Eve 2009 that killed 62 people.
Tiger Disco owner, Piya Isaramalai, went to Patong police soon after the inferno destroyed the nightclub, killing 4 people, and was questioned for 12 hours. He said that efforts are being made to find alternatives for 1,000 Tiger staff and independent bar owners. Khun Piya said that the disco had been open for 13 years and that a contract had recently been signed for the lease to be extended for another 6 years.
Damage was estimated at 100 million baht, but insurance only covered 60 million baht, he said.
All relevant documents concerning the permission for the building had been handed over to the police, he said, including documents concerning the erection of the dance balcony.
He would cover the hospital costs of critically-burned Frenchman Benjamin Tallanotte and others injured and compensate the families of the dead.
In the disco when the fire broke out, Khun Piya said he instructed staff to train fire extinguishers on the flames. A short time later, he was among the last to flee the building.
He emphasized that it was only because of the heavy and prolonged rain storm that patrons were still in the disco.
Khun Piya was emotional during the interview, according to reports, and apologized profusely to neighboring Patong businesses, and to the tourism industry in general.
- BEER WARS: Heineken has agreed to buy Fraser and Neave's controlling stake in the maker of Tiger beer in a deal worth US$4.5 billion. Heineken had raised its bid to 53 Singapore dollars per share, demolishing ThaiBev's hopes to increase its share of the regional brewer.
- BANGKOK'S BEST CAESAR SALAD QUEST: It's a kind of litmus test for good food... I've started the "Bangkok's Best Caesar Salad Quest." And the front-runner is an Irish Pub in Ekamai 63, Soi 2, Bkk called Durty Nelly's. Unless you know different? Let me know... and I will check it out.
- FOOTBALL: Sir Alex Ferguson has planned his exit strategy from Manchester United and will quit in 2 years after building his last great team around Wayne Rooney and last week's expensive capture from Arsenal, Robin van Persie.