Martial law threatens new blow to beleaguered Thai tourism

Wed May 21, 2014 5:21pm EDT
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By Khettiya Jittapong and Orathai Sriring

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The Thai army's imposition of martial law is another blow to the country's tourist industry, adding to the economic pain from six months of destabilizing street protests as airlines cut back on flights and concern over insurance adds to travelers' worries.

Tourism officials put a brave face on the latest twist in the long-running civil strife, saying it was too early to gauge the impact on tourist arrivals, which already dipped nearly 6 percent in the first three months of the year.

"It might look scary and to outsiders it might sound violent, but if we look at it from another angle it should bring more security and peace which should reassure tourists," said Supawan Tanomkieatipume, vice-president of the Thai Hotels Association.

But some travel agencies said they expected a further fall in bookings after Tuesday's news, especially from corporate travelers, who can be more sensitive to political risks.

Inadequate insurance cover may also put some off: most travel policies have exemptions specifying that claims will not be paid if they are a result of martial law or civil unrest.

Many governments updated their travel advisories to citizens on Tuesday, warning of an increased military presence and some roadblocks in and around the capital Bangkok.

On Internet travel forums, potential visitors voiced concern about the situation and asked whether they should cancel trips.

As soldiers fanned out onto the streets of Bangkok - hailed by Time Magazine only last year as the world's most visited city - most shops and businesses stayed open and transport ran normally. The caretaker government led by supporters of self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra said it was still running the country and the army said it was not staging a coup.   Continued...

The Grand Palace is pictured in Bangkok in this April 10, 2014 file photo.  REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/Files