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Thu 6 Mar 2003 04:00 AM

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Fear of war in Iraq hits tourism in Thailand

A looming war in Iraq has affected the tourism industry in Thailand, which saw a decline in group tour bookings, yet the Kingdom still believes it can attract 11.3 million visitors this year 2.5% of them from the Middle East.

A looming war in Iraq has greatly affected the tourism industry in Thailand, which saw a decline in group tour bookings, reported Reuters. Apichart Sangkha-aree, vice-president of the Association of Thai Travel Agencies (ATTA), told Reuters that Thai tour operators had received significantly fewer advance bookings from American, European and Middle Eastern groups for the summer season. “The hardest hit are high-end Thai hotels, some of which have found room bookings disappearing. In a normal year, most summer group tours would have confirmed their bookings by now. For this year, we have got only 20 to 30% of them,” Apichart said. Some 10.9 million foreign tourists visited Thailand in 2002, up 7.3% from 2001. Of those visitors, 22.8% came from Europe, 4.8% from the United States, and 2.5% from Middle East countries. But Apichart, who is also owner of Thailand’s AED Travel Agency said “ATTA members now mostly get tour group booking confirmations only a few weeks in advance, compared with three to five months in previous years.” Thailand’s Tourism and Sports Minister Sontaya Kunplome told the news agency, “We should at least feel the impact, but its extent will be determined by the duration of the war. I think we will hardly feel it, if the fighting ends quickly. Thailand will adjust by focusing more on Asian tourists.” The minister told Reuters that tourist arrivals should grow at least 6% in 2003 to about 11.3 million and he expected the number of Chinese tourists to increase by between 20 and 30% this year, after it rose 9.8% to 763,708 in 2002. In February, it was reported that Thai Airways was considering setting up a ‘no-frills’ airline, possibly through a joint venture with Singapore Airlines and Southern China Airlines. The new venture would help boost tourism. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has targeted the Gulf and Middle East countries in the past to diversify its source-markets from the traditional East Asian, European and North American markets. The UAE in particular is the biggest market for Thailand among the Arab countries with 34,124 visitor arrivals in 2000, up 15.29% over the 29,599 visitors in 1999. Other markets like Egypt and Kuwait also grew by 28.50% and 14.51%, respectively. Arrivals from the Middle East in Jan-Oct 2002 grew by a strong 15.66% to 236,532 with all markets showing a positive growth. Some of this growth can be attributed to the indirect impact of immigration controls for citizens of Arab countries imposed by certain countries in Europe, America and Asia. According to TAT, earnings from the estimated 11.3 million arrivals are projected at 360,600 million baht, up 11.5% over 2002. Domestic visitors in 2002 are projected at 63.07 million, up 2.5%, with earnings of 323,000 million baht, up an estimated 4.87%.International airlines operate regular direct flights between Thailand and major Middle East countries. In the summer schedule, these include about 40 weekly flights by a number of regional and international airlines.

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