Ease travel warnings, lift the state of emergency

I recently wrote an open letter addressed to the ambassadors of all nations represented in Thailand, asking them to remove or reword their warnings that were issued, at times, unnecessarily and unfairly on traveling here. I sincerely thank those who assisted in changing their countries' travel advisories to reflect the true situation. While disruptions in certain parts of Bangkok were occurring, travel to other parts of the capital and Kingdom remained trouble-free.

Now that the majority of the demonstration sites have been dismantled and central Bangkok has returned to business as usual, the time has come to move forward and start rebuilding the country’s tourism sector and economy.

This will require a united effort and I call on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the tourism industry as a whole to come together to act on behalf of the nation.

I ask the interim government to immediately lift the current state of emergency. I also call upon the ambassadors of all nations that have not yet done so, to update their travel warnings to reflect the peaceful and limited nature of the current protests. Lastly, I call upon the Kingdom’s business leaders across the economic and social welfare spectrum to put national interests first as we rebuild an economy that has suffered greatly and unnecessarily in recent months.

Taking into account that unfortunate instances occur in other countries and no stern travel warnings have been enforced there, it is deeply disappointing to see that Thailand is still being portrayed as a dangerous country, when this is actually not the case.

Along with the rest of the world, I was shocked to learn about the recent terrorist attack that took place in Kunming, China and my condolences go out to the families who lost loved ones in the attack. To date, I am not aware of many countries, if any, that have issued warnings on travel to Kunming, and China has not been designated a danger zone for travellers.

This only underscores the point that unfortunate incidents can occur anytime and anywhere. As a consequence, stringent travel warnings placed on a country can badly affect or even destroy its economy.

The world as we know it has changed and it is time to review how travel warnings are issued and how they address travel concerns. Today’s travellers have access to information from reliable news sources updated regularly and they can easily make well-informed decisions. I really feel that this needs to be considered before travel warnings are issued.

Although many media outlets sensationalised their reports on the protests there are still reliable news services and social media outlets, such as Twitter that tend to give a more up-to-date assessment of travel risks and offer real insights into the situation on the ground.

Official reports in Thailand state that almost half of the active population is employed by the service industry, which creates over 40% of the annual GDP. In addition, it has been stated that tourism makes a larger contribution to Thailand’s economy than that of any other Asian nation.

With the current state of emergency and travel warnings still in place, the recent drop in tourism is really starting to take effect. Hotels across the country are facing a reduction in arrivals which has a knock-on affect not only towards those directly employed by the industry, but also on the livelihoods of millions of people who are indirectly employed by the tourism sector.

For example, all of our hotels source food locally and there are millions of farmers who will feel the effects of overly strict travel bans and general lack of confidence in the tourism sector.

I am passionately concerned about the recovery of Thailand’s tourism sector and how we can actively transform negative perceptions worldwide that linger from the recent protests. At times, Thailand has been unfairly portrayed by certain media outlets as an absolute danger zone. It must be remembered that the political upheaval here has always been a national affair and that tourists and visitors to the Kingdom have never been the target.

Please do not misunderstand me, I agree that travel warnings serve a purpose, but they must also be realistic in their use.

In looking to the future, we must all persevere in our efforts to re-establish an accurate international image of safe travel in Thailand. There may well be more instances of disharmony in the future, but the reaction by all bodies should not lead to such terrible damage to the travel industry and the economy as a whole.

Speaking out on this issue may not always be a popular choice. But I cannot sit back quietly and watch the Kingdom's tourism sector, associated industries and working individuals continue to suffer unnecessarily.

Now is the time to unite and demand change so that Thailand can continue to be one of the world’s leading tourist destinations.

William E Heinecke is Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Minor International.

About the author

Writer: William E Heinecke