Tourism targeted by Bangkok attacks

No doubts remain: one of the primary victims of the Erawan shrine bomb attack, in the shopping heart of Bangkok, is tourism. The impact of the attack carried out in one of the city’s busiest areas – right in the middle of Chit Lom station and Siam BTS station, the main station of the popular transportation system which intersects the Sukhumvit and Silom lines – promises to have devastating effects upon the country’s tourism marketing. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha asked the public not to rush in sharing information about the bombing on social media, in reality an impossible appeal. Less than one hour after the explosions that have so far claimed 22 lives and injured 116, including at least two foreigners, images of the blast caught by CCTV cameras at the intersection of Ratchdamri and Rama I roads had flooded the Internet. Bodies covered with white sheets at the popular Erawan shrine, visited by many locals but also Chinese tourists, appeared on the front cover of yesterday’s Bangkok Post. Titled ‘City Bomb Horror’, they did not hide the importance of the fact despite the lack of proper information. The same happened in The Nation, the second most read English language newspaper in Thailand. A banner headline in blood red reading ‘Bomb Carnage’ proclaimed the horror, the body copy of which went on to report that two explosions had rocked the city around 7:00pm, when many commuters were returning home and tourists were looking for a place to dine or just finishing their afternoon shopping in an area packed with shopping malls – the area of confluence of Gaysorn, Zen and Central World malls. Erawan had its windows shattered and further on, Paragon and Siam. No responsibility claimed The norm in a politically agitated Thailand – from which former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was forced to seek exile abroad and, years later, his sister was forced to abandon power by a military junta that still rules the country – is for the responsibility for bombings to be unclaimed. In the streets of the capital rumours abound, with many political scenarios suspected (see box). The blast of improvised bombs made with gunpowder stuffed inside a pipe, detonated in a similar way to a TNT device setting off, and is, according to local experts “politically motivated”, a source told Business Daily. “Tourists are normally the weakest link in a fight that has commenced since the King became ill” because “those [tourists] deaths attract bigger international media attention”. In the peak tourism season, during the school holidays, the explosion and the terror “aim to create a sense of insecurity and to shake the confidence of important institutions”, Business Daily was told. The blast, the third and so far the biggest bomb attack since the military coup, will now be “in the middle of the Thai political games in the coming months”. Economy will suffer “The biggest and most rapidly growing tourism sector in Thailand for the past year has been the Chinese market and as we’ve seen during previous problems in Thailand the Chinese and Asians are the first to disappear at the slightest hint of trouble”, Derek Proctor, a well established businessman told Business Daily. To this Irishman who manages a hospitality company and has lived in the country for more than 30 years, “to target a site that has a high number of Chinese visitors indicates the objective was to damage tourism and the economy”. According to a study announced yesterday by Asia Channel TV, Bangkok is the second most visited city in the world, with 28.2 million people, lagging London by just 600,000. Tourism, representing 10 per cent of Thai GDP, was expected to ring up US$61 billion this year, numbers that will now inevitably slow down. Asean tourists are the main source of visitor, at 31 per cent (followed by Chinese nationals at 28 per cent). However, the number of Chinese has trebled, year-on-year, reaching a massive 4.5 million so far in 2015. “The event is so out of proportion to anything that has ever happened in Thailand throughout the recent troubled years that it’s difficult to imagine it could be more than a once-off event”, says Proctor hopefully. A smaller explosion, that didn’t injure anyone, at a small pier on the Chao Praya river might suggest otherwise, however. With a weak baht, exchanged on the street at almost 4.50 per Hong Kong dollar, more than half a baht per dollar in less than one year has resulted in increasingly attractive prices for tourists. The latest events might change the environment altogether, with the country facing losses of hundreds of billions of baht in revenues due to a possible drought of visitors. “Each of the protest periods over the past seven years was devastating for tourism. The most immediately severe were the protests in 2010, which resulted in almost 100 deaths and which had the military out on the streets in free-fire mode”, Mr. Proctor explained to this newspaper. “Each period of unrest has been followed by a period of relative calm following which tourism has recovered and businesses had a period of financial recovery. However, the recovery has grown increasingly feeble after each new period of unrest”, he said. The protests of last year and the subsequent military coup and imposition of curfews and martial law “have been proven the most costly”. Revenues during the time of protests “have been down 20 per cent on normal and over a full-year period run at 40 per cent of normal, producing a very difficult situation for companies operating in Thailand”, he explained.