Local Firms Fear Fallout of Thai Bedlam

The seizure of Bangkok international airport by anti-government protesters has hurt more than just Thailand.

With air services suspended to and from Bangkok, tourists have been stranded in Cambodia, visitors who use the Thai capital as a jumping-off point for Cambodia have found their travel plans scuttled, and the Cambodian economy could be further hurt by the long-term impact of the Thai unrest, several local businesspeople said Wednesday.

Normally, about 25 percent of ar­rivals to and departures from Cam­bodia’s two major airports in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap go through Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, according to the Societe Concessionnaire Des Aeroports, which operates both airports.

Using passenger figures from SCA for the first nine months of 2008, about 2,250 passengers traveling to or from Cambodia will be affected each day the Thai airport remains closed.

“The problem is that Cambodia is vulnerable to this situation,” said Bobby Tho, CEO of Sokha Hotels and Resorts. “Over the next couple of days [the effect] could be a small percentage. It will depend on how long it lasts,” he said.

About five tourists at Sokha ho­tels have been stranded, but the number of no-shows won’t be clear until late Wednesday night, Tho said.

Even if the airport reopens, the turmoil in Thailand over the last few months, which has spawned some foreign governments to issue travel warnings, could further reduce the number of tourists who visit Cambodia on package tours from Thailand, he said.

That turmoil, along with the global financial crisis, has already begun affecting the local tourism industry, Tho said.

“This is just more bad news for Cambodian tourism,” he said, adding that part of Cambodia’s problem is that there are no regular direct flights from Cambodia to Europe, the market that relies on Bangkok the most for travel to Cambodia.

Philip Setkao, general manager of Borei Angkor Spa and Resort in Siem Reap town, said so far 10 to 15 guests cancelled reservations because of the Bangkok situation and six have had to remain at the 188-room hotel.

Setkao said he was still assessing the rapidly changing situation but one thing is clear: “When these things happen it will hurt tourism,” he said.

Ministry of Tourism officials could not be reached for comment or declined to speak with a reporter on Wednesday. Several Ministry of Commerce officials also declined to comment.

Ho Vandy, president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, said the situation wasn’t as bad as it seems.

If the Bangkok airport siege continues, travel agents will reroute flights to Cambodia through other regional hubs such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei and Seoul.

“It’s not a big disaster for Cambodia,” he said.

“During these few days, we would like to advise all passengers that wish to fly to Thailand…to delay their schedule,” he said, adding that the inconvenience to tourists is clear.

“If you are a tourist and if you cannot fly, how much will you pay for [a] hotel? For accommodations? For eating? These things you first must consider,” he said.

Beyond the immediate effects of unrest in Bangkok, there are possible implications for the entire region’s reputation as a stable environment, which could also negatively affect perceptions of Cambodia.

“For Asean countries, we don’t want these problems,” Ho Vandy said.

Khaou Phallaboth, president of the Khaou Chuly Group, which regularly does business in Thailand, said the Thai government will have to act.

“[Protestors] have closed the airport which is a major thing indeed,” he said.

The situation is not only affecting tourism in both countries, but also inconveniences business people who want to travel to Cambodia for investment purposes, he said.

His company’s joint venture on a cement factory in Kampot province had a board meeting with Thai partners recently, he said.

“We would have had to postpone the meeting indeed, but fortunately we had it last Friday,” he added.

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