Operators fret over tourist nosedive from Middle East

Operators fret over tourist nosedive from Middle East

The tourism industry in Southeast Asia may be hindered by a huge drop in tourist arrivals from the Middle East if the situation in Doha is not sorted in the short term.

Ittirit Kinglake, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT), said he is worried the number of visitors from Arab nations to Bangkok and other destinations in Thailand during the high season of October to March may drop dramatically if Qatar Airways is unable to operate its flights to Thailand.

"If conflicts in the Middle East grow and flights from Doha are banned, the tourism sector in Asean will be severely hurt, particularly in the coming peak period," he said.

TCT sees no significant cancellations so far, but said tourists are worried about their travel plans. Tourists coming to Thailand may soon face higher travelling costs if they shift to other carriers such as Emirates, whose fares are higher than Qatar Airways.

For some Thai tourists who have already bought tickets from Qatar Airways and will travel soon, they will need to be re-routed from the airline as they cannot transit through Doha to connect to flights to Europe or the US.

This rejig could affect travellers' time, expenses and plans, said Mr Ittirit.

Supawan Tanomkieatipume, president of the Thai Hotels Association, agreed with Mr Ittirit, saying the entire tourism sector is at high risk of great deceleration, especially when the high season starts in October.

"It's hard to believe the situation will improve very soon. If it does not, I believe tourists will not come to Thailand or any country in Asean. But if tourists do come, they will start in late November rather than October," Ms Supawan said.

Hotel operators have not received any cancellations for bookings from the Middle East market, she said.

This year Thailand aims to welcome some 1 million tourists from the Middle East -- 70% of them leisure travellers and 30% medical tourists.

Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, insisted it is too soon to assess the impact from the Doha conflicts as major Middle Eastern airlines are flying still into Thailand.

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