BANGKOK Feb 4 Thailand's anti-government
protests, now in their third month, have taken a heavy toll on
tourism in the bustling capital Bangkok, but sparked an upturn
in arrivals at beach and mountain resorts, officials say.
Thousands of demonstrators have occupied areas near
Bangkok's commercial and retail districts, paralysing traffic
and causing logistical headaches for residents and visitors
Ten people have been killed in sporadic outbursts of
violence since late November.
Thailand attracted a record 26 million-plus visitors last
year, up 19.63 percent from a year earlier, but arrivals fell by
half to about one million in January from December.
The tourist high season runs from November to January, but
the hotel occupancy in the capital is hovering at about 50
percent, according to the Thai Hotel Association, well below the
usual 80 percent occupancy rate.
"Some hotels in the capital and near Bangkok are less than
50 percent full," Tourism Minister Somsak Phurisisak told
Reuters. "This is highly unusual."
China and the United States have warned their nationals to
avoid protest areas in the city, which are near some of the top
five-star hotels and raunchy bar and entertainment districts,
prompting some business people to stay away.
"They are afraid of inconvenience and afraid for their own
safety," said Surapong Techruvichit, president of the Thai
The protest areas have been turned into giant camp sites,
complete with market stalls selling kitsch protest merchandise,
making a quiet evening stroll next to impossible and prompting
taxi drivers to drop their well-heeled fares far from their
PEAK IN MOUNTAINS
The protesters, led by former deputy prime minister Suthep
Thaugsuban, are in their third week of a "shut down" of the
capital, though for the most part, it is business as usual.
Arrivals at Bangkok's main airport fell 4.3 percent in
January compared with the same period as last year, according to
the Airports of Thailand.
But many were heading instead for Thailand's famous beach
and mountain resorts, such as Phuket, Krabi and Koh Samui.
Mountainous Chiang Mai, a backpacker's gateway to northern
Thailand packed with crumbling Buddhist temples and hiking
trails, is enjoying hotel occupancy of 95 percent.
"It's an impressive number for the hotel industry and the
best we have seen in five years," said Phanut Thanalaopanich,
president of the Thai Hotels Association northern chapter.
Tourism, which accounts for more than 8 percent of Southeast
Asia's second-largest economy, has proved resilient in the past
to political protests, some of them more deadly than the current
standoff, but industry officials are worried that may not be the
case this time.
The protests show no sign of ending soon and a prolonged
siege of the capital could prove a real test to the economy and
could deter new investors.
But some visitors to Bangkok, the world's most-visited city
according to the MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index 2013
, refused to be put off.
"We're in Bangkok for a night and then heading down south to
party hard on an island," said Matthew Brown, who is visiting
from Britain with university friends.
"It's been a pain getting around Bangkok, but it's hardly a