These are the rumors… The red shirt protests in Bangkok, Thailand, may lead to a military coup. They may be paralyzing the city’s traffic, causing disruption to the public, and all because of one certain ex-PM, say many pundits. Thai tourism may lose 1 billion baht over the course of the protests of March 12-17, and the end result may be “true democracy” in Thailand with a government dissolution. The red shirts may collect 1,000 liters of blood to deface various government properties. Or not.
I will not take any political stance on what is an internal matter for Thais and Thailand, but I can offer the following insights and updates, from the perspective of the editor of Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia. The “facts” all depend, of course, on where you look, but above are some of the news reports I’ve seen over the course of the past week, during the protest build-up. Travel advisory updates have been issued from countries as close (and unlikely) as Laos; at the same time, a military build-up during the run-up to the protests led many to believe a coup was imminent.
In fact, while Thailand’s tourism reputation will likely suffer a blow, it is unlikely to be a knockout punch. The industry in Thailand has proven to be very resilient, and – unknown to some of today’s travelers – has been so, from the regrettable airport closures by the People’s Alliance for Democracy going back to the political events of 1991-1992 and the coup then, through the 1997 Asian economic crash, the coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin, and so on.
In the current situation, most hoteliers I know have expressed some level of worry and anxiety over lost bookings and lost confidence, particularly those in Bangkok protest areas. But now, five days in, the protesters seem to be losing heart, to some extent – or so it seems to me. At the same time, the Abhisit-led Democratic government has offered some level of concession in saying it would not stand down, but would listen to the people. These are good signs. But however it does all play out, as I said, Thai tourism is very resilient, and I know of no tourist being injured or otherwise affected of late, except, of course, for the airport closures in 2008.
Overall, even when compared to most of its neighbors, Thailand tourism is still safe. The country remains famously friendly, and no recent protest has been directed in any way towards foreigners. The airport is unaffected and looks to remain so, while the streets of Bangkok not directly in the protest areas, remain “quiet” (other than the normal adrenaline shot of rush hour and the more lively areas of town). Upcountry is safe, and with the high season now in full swing and moving towards the hot season, there has never been a better time for a beach break, or a city vacation.
Thai Tourism will no doubt be affected by the current events, but it will recover. Show your continued support by visiting this beautiful and largely peaceful country. — Matt Leppard