2014 tourist arrivals likely to drop 5%: Tourism Minister

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BANGKOK, Jan 23 –  Caretaker Tourism and Sports Minister Somsak Pureesrisak said Thursday that the number of tourist arrivals this year is likely to decrease to 26 million from the previous projection of 28 million, or a drop of 5 per cent year-on-year following months of anti-government protest.

Hotel occupancy was only 30 per cent despite the high season, he said, adding that the political unrest caused an estimated loss in tourism business at around Bt20 billion, he said

More countries and territories have prepared to upgrade travel advisories to their citizens after the 60-day Emergency Decree was imposed to handle the anti-government protesters in Bangkok and parts of surrounding provinces yesterday.

The minister said the caretaker government has prepared measures to help protest-hit hotel businesses, including training courses for hotel staff to get better skills and could eventually increase their income.

The political unrest however has no significant impact on the arrival of tourists from North America as more travellers from the United States and Canada are expected later this year, according to Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Chureerat Kongtrakul, regional director of the TAT Americas Division, said the number of tourists from the United States this year would be the same as last year as the US economy gradually regains its health. Last year, some 820,000 American tourists visited Thailand.

She conceded if there is bloodshed, it would definitely adversely affect visitors, particularly first-timers, because this group of tourists are relatively sensitive. But those who travelled to Thailand more than once would understand the situation and would unlikely be affected, she said.

Ms Chureerat said some 230,000 Canadian visitors travelled to Thailand last year. This market was more sensitive than that of the United States but the number could rise this year although the Canadian government has issued travel advisories to its citizens on the political situation in Thailand.

She said TAT intends to penetrate new markets in the Americas, in particular the Latin American countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Columbia and Mexico.

One problem foreseen was the lack of Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking guides, she said, adding that the government would urgently increase the number of tour guides to respond to the market demand.