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Thai protests cut tourism numbers

Anti-government protests are into their second month and the crisis is far from over.

Anti-government protests are into their second month and the crisis is far from over. Picture: AFP

BANGKOK - Boonyot Chaiyakhan has been a security guard at the Siri Sathorn hotel in the Thai capital, Bangkok, for three years. This month, he says, has been one of the quietest since he started.

"It's because of the protests. Normally the hotel would be buzzing but the Japanese tourists are staying away," he said.

Anti-government protests are into their second month and, even if the number of demonstrators has gone down, the crisis is far from over.

It is still certain to be a record year for tourism in 2013 after a jump in the number of Chinese visitors, but the December-February high season may prove a disappointment.

Famed for its gilded temples and powder-white beaches, Thailand attracted a record 22 million visitors in 2012 and has proved resilient in the past to political turmoil.

But at least 39 countries have issued travel warnings and the tourist authority says prolonged protests would push arrivals down 1.3 percent from an expected 26.1 million in 2013 to 25.8 million.

"We're expecting minimal impact on revenue from tourism this year but are monitoring in case the situation becomes similar to anti-government protests in 2010," said Ranit Tokrisna, a spokesperson for the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

More than 90 people were killed in protests in Bangkok in April and May 2010.

Thailand's airport operator said on Monday passenger numbers had fallen 2 percent over the past couple of months compared with 2012.

"I took a business trip in mid-November before the protests heated up and immigration lines stretched as far as the eye could see," said Grissarin Chungsiriwat, an editor at a publishing company. "On my way back from a second trip at the start of December, the immigration hall was empty."

Protesters seeking to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra have vowed to fight on even though she has called an election for February 2. They want an overhaul of the electoral system and other reforms that would take months.

The protesters have their main base in the city's historic quarter, not far from the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

The Thai Hotels Association, which represents about 800 hotels, said 27 hotels surveyed in Bangkok had reported a total of about 25,000 rooms canceled for December.