Bangkok Bedlam May Boost Tourism, Hotels Say

As violence erupted in Bangkok on Saturday after nearly a month of protests by antigovernment demonstrators, one could be forgiven for drawing parallels with events in November 2008, which saw protestors besiege Thailand’s main international airport.

That blockade saw about 25 percent of all flights destined for Cambodia cancelled for a little over a week, draining a major supply of visitor arrivals to the country’s two main tourist hubs in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

But this time, despite the deaths of 21 people during clashes between Thai military and “red shirt” protesters loyal to former fugitive Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who continue to occupy the commercial heart of Bangkok, those operating Cambodia’s tourism sector say they hope to capitalize on a potential wave visitors choosing to leave the unrest in Thailand.

“If you visit one house and something bad is happening you will move to another house,” said Ang Kim Eang, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents.

Tourists who have planned to visit Bangkok will hopefully change their schedules to spend some time in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, he said.

Although no official data on visitor arrivals to Cambodia over the past month is yet available, hotels in Bangkok are reportedly experiencing a major downturn in business.

Mr Kim Eang said that when tensions rose in Thailand in the past, Cambodia tended to experience an influx of visitors entering the country via land or waterways.

Hotels and airports here say visitors are still at a healthy level with most flights from Thailand almost full and occupancy levels at hotels up above 70 percent in some cases.

Still, any long-term political meltdown in Bangkok could have a ripple effect on international arrivals as they start to avoid the area, Mr Kim Eang said.

About 25 percent of all flights destined for Cambodia leave from Thailand, according to Societe Concessionnaire des Aerports, or SCA, Cambodia’s airports operator.

Cambodia’s tourism sector constitutes about 13 percent of total economic activity.

“We know what happens when the political stability is threatened,” Mr Kim Eang said. “It can impact on the international arrivals to Cambodia also.”

An official at Siem Reap International Airport, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said that passenger levels in fights between Cambodia and Thailand had remained stable this week with planes running at about 70 percent of their capacity.

Khek Norinda, communications and marketing manager for SCA, said the potential loss of tourist arrivals would be significant if protestors managed to shut down the capital’s airport as they did in 2008.

There are currently 77 round trip flights per week between Thailand and Cambodia–42 flights between Bangkok and Phnom Penh and 35 flights between Bangkok and Siem Reap–representing nearly 25 percent of all flights to Cambodia.

Unlike in Bangkok, hotels here said there have not yet been any negative side effects to business in the light of uprisings in the Thai capital.

Catherine Lapierre, marketing manager for Raffles Hotels and Resorts, said she was confident that instability in Bangkok would help boost business, at least in the short term.

“Visitors are going to Cambodia rather than Bangkok,” she said. “Hopefully we can get some business from them.”

She added that as long as air links between Bangkok and Cambodia remained in place hotels should manage to remain unscathed.

Burd Rojprasitporn, assistant director of sales at Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Siem Reap, said rooms at the hotel were completely booked throughout Khmer New Year, which started Wednesday and finished today.

Occupancy levels for the rest of April are currently over 60 percent, good for this time of year as Cambodia enters the low tourist season, which goes on until October.

“So far our bookings have not been affected by the Bangkok incident,” Ms Rojprasitporn said, adding that an increasing number of international guests were starting to visit Cambodia after traveling to Vietnam.

Pascal Deyrolle, general manager at the Sokha Angkor Resort in Siem Reap, also said that events in Bangkok seemed to have had little effect on business, though he admitted that the picture would become clearer once Khmer New Year finishes.

“We haven’t had any overwhelming negativity here,” said Wendy Morris, general manager of the five-star Hotel de la Paix, where rooms go for between $220 and $715 a night.

“Certainly there are opportunities that people planning to stay in Bangkok might stay in Siem Reap instead,” she added.

Occupancy levels at Hotel de la Paix are up over 80 percent until mid May and unlike previous periods during Khmer New Year, the hotel is fully booked this week.

Ms Morris said that any loss in demand from Siem Reap was very hard to gage with guests at the hotel coming to Cambodia form numerous destinations across the world.

Still, although a spill over of business from Thailand looks possible in the short term Ms Morris held reservations about the possible long term effect on business if tourists start to associate Cambodia with political instability in the region.

“It would be preferable for it to settle down,” she said.


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