An open letter to ambassadors based in Bangkok
As CEO of one of the largest companies in Thailand and more so as a concerned citizen, I feel it is my duty to speak up on behalf of our 40,000 employees and those whose livelihoods depend directly and indirectly on tourism — one of the vital drivers of the Thai economy.
Minor International and numerous other operators in the tourism sector have, over many years, laid the foundations for what is considered the best tourism infrastructure in Asia which provides livelihoods for millions throughout the country.
Although the ongoing demonstrations are limited to certain parts of Bangkok, the rest of the city and the overall country for that matter is safe to visit.
However, the travel warnings and restrictions issued by some foreign governments incorrectly dispel this fact.
Tourists have never been a target in the protests and to this end all airports in Thailand remain fully operational and hotels and tourist attractions across the Kingdom continue to welcome guests as usual.
The people of Thailand are extremely welcoming of tourists and I am certain that visitors are in far more danger of being harmed in any major European or American city than they are here in Bangkok.
These unnecessarily severe travel advisories are now having a major impact on the livelihoods of Thai people across the country.
Thailand’s caretaker Minister of Tourism and Sports Somsak Phurisisak reported that tourism arrivals in January dropped by one million from the same time last year. The Tourism Council of Thailand quantified the revenue loss as 22.5 billion baht. This impact will not only be felt in the tourism sector, but also indirectly in all fields from manufacturing to farming.
Thailand remains one of the most popular and desired destinations on the planet. I know that tourists still want to travel here – I can see it in the reservation inquiries that our hotels receive every day. But people are naturally hesitant when their home country issues travel restrictions or country warnings.
Travel advisories play an important role in our overall safety and security, but they can also have an unnecessarily negative impact on the livelihood of others when they are not completely based on reality. Foreign governments’ travel warnings and restrictions on their nationals to visit Thailand are not based on the full reality of the situation for visitors to the Kingdom.
If there were demonstrations in Washington or Paris, would tourists be advised not to visit the entire country? Would travel warnings ever be issued? I ask the members of the diplomatic community who are based in Thailand and staff from the Ministry for Tourism and Sports who have first-hand experience of the non-impact of Thailand’s political woes on foreign tourists, to support the cause to have foreign governments re-examine the severity of their travel restrictions and to revise their travel advisories to focus only on the very limited pockets of Bangkok that are affected.
I have the utmost respect for the members of the diplomatic community who play a very important role in representing their nation’s interests across the globe.
Yet it is upsetting to see travel warnings such as the "black/severe threat for Thailand (Bangkok)" from the government of Hong Kong. Specifically, nationals are "urged to avoid all travel to Bangkok", which I feel is severe and should only refer to specific areas of the capital.
In the same vein, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the nations who have not issued, or only issued limited travel warnings — your support is greatly appreciated.
I would also ask that you and the Ministry of Tourism and Sports join with me in lobbying with some of our friends in the media to honour a code of ethics and provide a fair and factual overview of the political challenges that we face.
Dramatising and focusing on sensationalist headlines and scenes is not a balanced view of the protests that we face in Bangkok.
Such reporting serves only to further fuel the fire of unnecessary scare tactics and fear-mongering. Bangkok is open for business and visitors are warmly welcomed across the capital.
Thailand is one of the most welcoming countries in the world and I hope that together we can continue to support this beautiful destination and its people.
William E Heinecke is Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Minor International.