Chiang Rai tourism hit by airport closure
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Chiang Rai tourism hit by airport closure

Mae Fah Luang Chiang Rai International Airport is set to resume operations on Wednesday.
Mae Fah Luang Chiang Rai International Airport is set to resume operations on Wednesday.

Chiang Rai tourism has been impacted by the temporary closure of Mae Fah Luang Chiang Rai International Airport after an incident with a Nok Air flight on Saturday night, with tourists and locals having to cancel their trips or catch flights from Chiang Mai instead.

After a Nok Air Boeing 737-800 skidded off the runway on July 30, the airport announced its closure until Aug 3, resulting in the cancellation of all flights for four days.

Promporn Jindawong Nateharn, president of the Tourism Council of Chiang Rai, said all 16 daily flights carrying 3,200 passengers have been affected as airlines that operate at the airport have had to reroute those flights to Chiang Mai airport and arrange transportation from Chiang Rai, which takes around three hours by road.

She said passengers who had still travelled as planned were mostly tourists who were left stranded at Chiang Rai after finishing their long-weekend holiday and needed to return home, along with locals who had urgent business in Bangkok.

However, most tourists that had planned to visit Chiang Rai from July 31 to Aug 3 had cancelled or postponed their trips due to the travel situation.

"We saw an impact on tourism as the incident happened during the busy four-day-long holiday period. Passengers had to catch new flights from Chiang Mai, while new visitors decided to wait and see as air travel is the most convenient transport and the airport is the key gateway to this mountain province," Mrs Promporn said.

She said that prior to the incident at the airport, tourism in Chiang Rai had been picking up significantly as the province rolled out an active marketing plan to stimulate business during low season, which saw average occupancy close to 60% last month.

Mrs Promporn said tourism operators hoped the airport would reopen Thursday as some tourists who planned to visit the province this weekend or on the next long weekend, during Mother's Day on Aug 12, were closely following the situation.

"We have 700 hotels in the provinces and over 70% of them have already reopened after two years of temporary closure during the Covid-19 pandemic. If air travel can resume shortly, we still predict that the number of tourists this year will match 2019's level as there has been an influx of local and international 'workcationers', or office workers who can work remotely from anywhere," she said.

Mrs Promporn said prospects for the final quarter are also positive due to the attractions that are scheduled to open for tourists, particularly a new theme park at Tham Luang Cave, where a football team were trapped in a flooded cave complex in 2018 before being rescued.

The theme park will open in October, just a few months after the release of Ron Howard's film about the cave rescue entitled Thirteen Lives.

The story about the cave rescue might stimulate more interest from international tourists who want to experience the actual scene of the event at the theme park.

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