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For those of you who aren’t aware, on April 12 the Royal Thai Government declared a State of Emergency in Bangkok and the surrounding areas. I thought I’d take this opportunity to fill you in on what has been going on, seeing as Asia is the beat I was “assigned” at work. (I use assigned loosely because I don’t actually get to travel anywhere. I’m thrown press releases from Asia’s tourism boards and get to write them up under the guise of an Asia reporter. I’ll take the bone I’ve been thrown, but I’m not bitter or anything.)
Anyway, back to a real problem. Thailand.
The state of emergency was declared following demonstrations by protestors from the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (or the “red-shirts”). On Saturday, April 10, the red-shirts and the Royal Thai Government met head to head in the Phanfa Bridge area, which resulted in 21 deaths and over 800 wounded victims. And the demonstrations continue.
If you really want to look for a silver lining, it is important to note that the violence has been contained to the Bangkok region. Travel outside of Bangkok seems to be safe.
But tourism officials, while trying to remain upbeat, are concerned about what this means for Thailand for the rest of 2010.
“Our concerns are two-fold,” says Mark Siegel, CEO of Golfasian Co. Ltd., a Bangkok-based golf tour operator. “While 99 percent of the country’s hotels and golf courses and restaurants are operating as normal, the more important concern is that we continue to have dozens of clients in country. We have to look out for their welfare and assure them that their safety isn’t an issue because, in my view, it isn’t.”
Still, Russia, South Korea and China have warned their citizens to postpone their trips to Bangkok. It is predicted that tourism numbers could drop 20 percent this year and some analysts are even predicting that up to $500 million could be lost from the economy.
But economy and tourism aside, the number one concern is citizens, visitors and tourists. Siegel says, “It’s disrespectful and simply untrue to assert that things are going forward as normal, and will go forward as normal. This is the worst political violence in 20 years.”
Thailand is the #2 place in the world that I want to visit (a very, very close second behind Bali). My thoughts go out to the people in Bangkok. I hope I can get there some day.