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Bangkok’s floods spare Thailand’s other tourist destinations

November 14, 2011

Bangkok’s floods, the worst to hit the capital in decades, have yet to impact tourist arrivals in some of Thailand’s other, partly thanks to the exodus of ‘refugees’ from the capital, officials said Friday.

While tourist arrivals to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport dropped 25 per cent during the first week of November, they shot up 40 per cent in Phuket, 700 kilometres away from the water-logged capital, according to Authority of Thailand (TAT) figures.

One reason for Phuket’s popularity is the influx of ‘Bangkok refugees’ to the resort.

‘We’re getting a lot of refugees, and the TAT is assisting those who want to escape from Bangkok,’ the organization’s Phuket director Bangornrat Shinaprayoon said.

Seven Phuket hotels have joined a TAT campaign to offer discounted rates to ‘Bangkok flood evacuees,’ and Thai Airways International, the national carrier, is also offering discounted fares to the island.

But the number of international tourists descending on the island is also on the rise partly because of the inauguration of new direct international flights this month.

A new direct flight between Seoul and Phuket was inaugurated on November 1, and the first direct flight from Copenhagen to the island started on Friday.

‘We will also soon have more direct flights from Russian cities besides Moscow,’ Bangornrat said.

Russian tourists, famed for their imperviousness to Thailand’s past political upsets, are booking hotel rooms in nearly all the kingdom’s beach resorts.

‘The Russian market has booked 70 per cent of the hotel rooms in Pattaya this peak season,’ said Niti Kongrut, the former TAT director in Pattaya.

Pattaya is also seeing an influx of ‘flood refugees’ from Bangkok, only 100 kilometres away, but most are looking for serviced apartments for a longer term stay away from home.

Bangkok’s floods are expected to linger in the capital until the end of November.

‘We’ve got Bangkok refugees all over the place,’ TAT Trat director Woranit Keyaras said. ‘Many of them are asking me where they can buy land or rent a house for the long term.’

Trat province, which includes the popular Chang Island, has also indirectly benefited from the influx of Russian tourists to Phuket.

‘They are booking all the rooms in Phuket, Samui Island and Krabi, so the Scandinavians and Germans can’t get bookings there and are coming to Koh Chang instead,’ Woranit said.

But in the long term, Thailand’s tourism sector is expected to suffer this year on account of the floods, which have been extensively covered by the international press.

According to TAT estimates, overall tourist arrivals to Thailand this year will drop 2 per cent below the government’s target of 19.5 million because of devastating floods.

Recovery of the industry will depend largely on how quickly the government can clear Bangkok of the floods, which were still swamping more than half of the capital, mostly the suburbs, as of Friday.

The TAT estimates that if the crisis is resolved by the end of November, the drop in tourist arrivals could be limited to 200,000 for the year, leading to a loss of 520 million dollars in revenues.

But if the floods continue to the end of December, international arrivals could drop by 300,000 and revenue losses would be 825 million dollars, TAT said.

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