Ex-minister plays down unrest

Ex-minister plays down unrest

Passengers make their way through the departures hall at Suvarnabhumi airport. (Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
Passengers make their way through the departures hall at Suvarnabhumi airport. (Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

A former tourism and sports minister said even if Thailand experiences political demonstrations, foreign tourists would not be affected unless protesters disrupted airport operations as happened in 2008.

Weerasak Kowsurat, a senator and former tourism minister, said foreign tourists continued to visit the country that year until Bangkok's airports were seized and shut by rioting protesters.

He said normally tourists continue with their travel plans as long as political demonstrations do not target them, as they understand peaceful protests are domestic issues and part of the democratic process.

Mr Weerasak said during his term as tourism minister, while working at the ministry headquarters on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, he saw tourists in the area enjoy their holidays as usual even though there were protests on the streets nearby.

However, the market and the flow of tourists would be severely affected if there were airport seizures, as occurred in 2008, he said.

If political demonstrations happen, there should be a contingency plan in place, particularly for handling possible violence, said Mr Weerasak.

The 10-day closure of Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports in 2008 resulted in severe damage to Thai tourism and the overall economy, reportedly valued at 200 billion baht. In 2011, the Civil Court ordered a group of protesters to pay 522 million baht to compensate for the losses.

He said he hopes the new tourism minister will have an open mind and listen to different viewpoints.

"The tourism minister should understand and get along with the local community and small and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs], as well as big corporations, as the industry has to deal with sectors covering all scales," said Mr Weerasak.

He said a large number of operators are still struggling to obtain loans or financial aid to sustain their businesses. The new tourism minister must work to fairly distribute benefits to SMEs, said Mr Weerasak.

He suggested Thailand work to become a sustainable tourism destination through an environmental, social and governance strategy to maximise its competitiveness.

Speaking at the Tourism Council of Thailand's annual meeting, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, tourism minister from 2014 to 2017, said Thailand should appeal to repeat visitors looking for new, unique experiences.

She said one example is bringing a famous international art trade fair, such as Art Basel, to Thailand, which could attract high-spending travellers as well as support local artists.

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