Thai army taking possession of Silom business district helped to diffuse some of the tensions perceptible in Bangkok while Red Shirt continue to stage a protest in the Thai capital. According to the government, soldiers stationed in the Silom area will however not hesitate to use weapons and fire on red-shirt protesters if they threat security. So far, Red Shirts decided not to move on to Silom Road. They opted instead to stay around Lumpini Park -facing Silom Rd- and around the Rachaprasong area, forcing most business to close in the area. Checkpoints were set up by Red Shirts to limit eventual incursion of the army into their ‘zone’.
As the Red threatened to challenge army’s potential attacks and to turn Bangkok city center into a war zone, large hotels in the Ratchaprasong area decided to close down, living tourism players desperate of any rapid solution after five weeks of protests.
Grand Hyatt, Holiday Inn, and Intercontinental were evacuated at noon on Tuesday while the Centara Grand, Novotel on Siam Square and the VIE-M Gallery remained opened. “We are located slightly outside the “hot zone” but the situation is becoming increasingly tensed. Protests around the area have been lasting for almost two weeks, paralyzing the entire area,” explains Philippe Le Bourhis, GM of the Novotel Bangkok on Siam Square. It is a strange situation in what used to be Bangkok’s most vibrant district. Malls on the east side of Siam Skytrain Station are all closed, while, on its west side, some shops opened at Siam Square. It is also business as usual at nearby Mabukrong Shopping Center (MBK) across the deserted Siam Discovery Mall.
“Some of our guests even refuse to leave the hotel when we proposed to move them to another location. Meanwhile, we do not take any booking since a week and our occupancy has dropped dramatically from 80% at this time of the year to only 10%,” adds Mr. Le Bourhis. The hotel has also asked its staff to stay at home with only 40% of its normal workforce continuing to work. “We cannot anymore make forecasts about the evolution of the situation,” says Novotel Siam Square General Manager.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand does not dare as well to predict an issue to end the crisis. Answering to E-Turbo News, Mr. Suraphon Svetasreni, Governor of TAT confesses that it is difficult to assess the impact of the protests right now. “We have to wait and see. Final decisions on our marketing strategy will be made after the situation clears up,” he explains.
According to TAT, the number of visitor arrivals to Thailand at Suvarnabhumi International airport during 1-18 April 2010 totalled 456,435 declined by 3.64% over the same period of 2009. The most affected are –as usual- the short haul markets, especially China and Japan. “At the moment, we still have no new forecasts for 2010 yet but we are monitoring the situation step by step,” adds the Governor. However, Mr. Svetasreni points out that Southern Thailand has continue to see a high number of travellers. “Phuket, Krabi, Hat Yai or Nakhon Sri Tammarat were unaffected and showed an increase of 15% over the Songkran festival. There was also a significant increase in domestic tourism as people from Bangkok left the city for upcountry destinations over the long holiday period”, he adds.
What could be the next step? Bangkok is prone to rumors and news start to circulate about an imminent military coup- most probably within the next two weeks. “If the situation does not improve, if the Prime Minister cannot solve the current crisis, I do not see another alternative. But maybe, it would be the best solution for now for Thailand as the country does not seem to be mature enough for a democracy as conceived in the Western world,” explains a tourism executive who requested anonymity.