Businessmen in provinces are afraid that the protests in Bangkok will have a spillover effect on the provincial economy, particularly the tourism industry, as tourists could avoid coming to Thailand in the upcoming high season.
"It's a concern. Disturbances have a direct impact on the tourism industry," said Akkapol Pruksawan, deputy governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand. "We hope the situation returns to normal soon and TAT is now telling tourists that the situation is under control and nothing has turned violent."
Though tourists have not yet cancelled trips to Phuket, Somboon Jirayus, chairman of the Phuket Tourism Association, said the political unrest must be closely watched by foreigners. If violence follows, the industry would definitely be affected but the scale would be limited, like after the September 19 coup.
Surat Thani Tourism Association's chief Anake Nurak said that prolonged protests could have a longterm effect, as tourists have started arriving at destinations in the Gulf of Thailand as the high season begins.
Prasit Sirisrisakulchai, chairman of the Lampang Chamber of Commerce, said if the protests drag on for a month, the tourism industry in the North would be hardhit as tourists could abandon their travel plans for Thailand and move to other Asian countries.
"Business operators have started discussions on contingency measures in case the protests are prolonged," Prasit said.
He noted that the global economic slowdown has already taken its toll on Thailand, and if the political conflicts are resolved soon, it should brighten invest¬ment sentiment.
Chote Naramonthol, who oversees the federation of northern tourism associations for Mae Hong Son, said the ongoing conflicts would further exacerbate the province's tourism problems, along with the higher oil prices and the stagnant economy.
He said this year, coupled with Thai Airways International's decision to cut flights to the province in September, the number of tourists to Mae Hong Son should drop 30 per cent from last year, while revenue should also drop 30 per cent from Bt1 billion last year.
He added that there are no bookings yet for the famous Golden Sunflower festival slated for late every year.
Handicraft makers in the North also fear that foreign orders could be diverted to other countries, and the damage could be as high as Bt1 billion if the protests do not end soon.
Nattapong Harnphatchaikul, chairman of the group for northern handicraft makers and exporters, said most orders were usually filed in the last quarter of the year by foreigners who attend fairs. However, those buyers could go to other fairs in China, Hong Kong and Vietnam.
"Thailand is losing opportunities because of the prolonged unrest," he said.
Meanwhile, Songkhla yesterday announced its readiness to host the 26th Board of Trade conference from November 2830 when Asean businessmen will be invited for the first time to promote regional trade and investment.
Businessmen in the province hope that the conference will improve the province's image, which has been battered by violence in the South.