Bangkok – here I am. But where are the others?

Written by admin on December 19, 2008 – 12:34 pm -

During Thailand’s highest tourism season of the year, the lack of tourists makes Bangkok feel somewhat eerie. After arriving at the vast 563,000 square-meter Suvarnabhumi International Airport yesterday, we didn’t have to wait in long lines to clear customs.

The airport, which opened in 2006, is the second largest in the world and was slated by the government to be Southeast Asia’s major hub handing up to 45 million passengers per year.

But that’s not going to be the case this year because the airport was shut down by protestors. People were stranded in Bangkok and others were forced to bypass the country completely. Tourists have been blocked and diverted.  Many people have canceled their travel plans to the region.

After the airport’s reopening, airlines flying in and out of the airport have cut flights and planes aren’t flying at capacity. But now that I’m here, there’s zero feeling of danger. Our itinerary was a victim of the airport’s closure and we were diverted to Singapore before continuing to Laos.

It seems safe to return and there’s lots of room
Bangkok, “the City of  Angels” is filled with upscale and architecturally dramatic and inviting hotels. It’s estimated room occupancy is down by approximately 70%.

The country’s lucrative tourist industry accounts for up to 12 percent of the country’s GNP. Tourism experts state that the long-term effect could be very damaging to Thailand’s economy.

As December is the country’s high season, the lack of tourists isn’t simply a blow to the hotels and hospitality industry but to retailers as well. Residents from this region traditionally come to Bangkok to do their Christmas shopping. Stores cater to all tastes and budgets.

Deep discounts abound
Already there are deep-discounted sales in the toniest of shops. A walk through the Bangkok’s famed Night Market is distressing.

Contrasted with my last visit, there was a sense of depression visible on the faces of the vendors. One said that between the airport’s closing and the downturn in the economy, she wondered whether or not things would ever be the same.

Rather than negotiating for a pair of $10 pants, (and that’s always been a part of the give and take), it was easier on my conscience to pay the full asking amount.

Twenty-four boutique hotels and eleven travel agents have launched a “One Price for All Destinations” campaign to spur domestic tourism. The package features special room rates of 2,000 baht ($60) per night per person, including accommodations, breakfast and dinner plus airport transfers.

The participating hotels are in Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, Pran Buri, Krabi, Chumpon, Chiang Rai, Sukhothai, Samui and Koh Phangan. Bookings are open both for Thai and foreign tourists booked now until Feb 28 allowing eligible stays until June 30th. Normally these boutique hotels would cost about 5,000 to 6,000 baht ($150-$180) per night.

Thailand’s resorts are quiet and now is the time to snag a deep-discounted luxury villa you could never have imagined affording.

Even medical tourism is suffering
Medical tourism has become a viable and growing industry in recent years. People from all over the world are checking into private hospitals and clinics for essential procedures as well as tummy tucks and other cosmetic procedures. But, even that side of tourism has suffered; at least in the short run. One plastic surgeon said his clinic’s business has taken a dramatic drop.

It’s sad to think that Travel & Leisure magazine conducted an online poll where Bangkok was picked as the best vacation destination city. And now, it’s begging for visitors. If only I could stay longer and enjoy what the city has to offer. But I have to be home for Christmas.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis and is sorry her trip to Asia is coming to an end.


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