Thailand, which used to be one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, has seen tourism fall by between 15-20 percent in the last year. The Thai government keeps blaming H1N1, but this actually has very little to do with it. Thai government decisions, however, have made more and more tourists avoid Thailand and go to other countries in the region. Until the Thai government decides to make decisions that are tourist-friendly, unfortunately, falling tourism rates are likely to continue and here’s why.
High ATM Fees When Withdrawing Money From Banks Outside Thailand – A few months ago, the Thai banking association, in all its wisdom (or lack thereof!) decided to start charging a 150 baht withdrawal fee for every withdrawal from an ATM machine in Thailand. 150 baht, at present exchange rates, is around $4.50, one of the highest fees in the world for ATM withdrawals. Add onto it the fees most western banks already charge and, for someone like me, bringing through $450 from the US carries a total fee of over $22. Too expensive, so I no longer bring any money into Thailand from outside the country. Many tourists are also now avoiding Thailand, which is why Thai tourism is down, knowing that this could make it even more expensive to exchange money in Thailand.
Difficulty Getting Visas To Enter and Stay in Thailand – In many other countries in the region, tourists arriving at the airport get an immediate free visa for a 90 day stay. Thailand only gives a 30 day stamp then, if the tourist wants to do a border run (ie: leave Thailand and come back in again) to be allowed to stay longer, what used to be a 30 day stamp has now been reduced by Thai immigration to 15 days. When you can get an immediate 90 day stay in countries like Malaysia and Hong Kong, why would you bother coming to Thailand? A very important reason why tourism in Thailand is down.
Thailand is Becoming a Much More Expensive Destination – A few years ago, Thailand used to be a cheap tourist destination. Not anymore. Three, four and five star hotels in Bangkok have increased in price on average of more than 25%. Food has gone up 10-20%, transportation costs have risen (buses and taxis are now more expensive) and even buying a beer has gone up by 10-15%. With Malaysia now being cheaper than Thailand, many tourists are going there instead.
Tourist Scams at Suvarnabhumi Airport – Bangkok’s main airport has been in international news lately, after several scams against tourists that even landed some tourists in jail were discovered. The Thai government is trying to stop the scams, but the damage has already been done. Thailand’s reputation has been tarnished and it will take a while before it recovers sufficiently to make tourists want to come back.
Thailand’s Human Rights Violations – In the news a few months ago was the Thai military’s decision to arrest several hundred Rohingya refugees, put them back on boats, tow them out into the ocean without adequate food and water and leave them to die. More than 500 people died, with the Thai military (and Thai government) refusing to take responsibility. Human rights organizations all over the world decried this treatment, as how is it a humane society that has refugees fleeing from Burma (Myanmar) in fear of their lives from the repressive Burmese government and then treated even worse by Thais?
Westerners Arrested and Jailed for Lese Majeste (Against the King) – Thailand still has a lese majeste law on the books, which means, if anyone says anything the Thai government deems is ‘against the king’, they will be arrested, jailed, tried and usually condemned to several years in prison. With several high-profile cases involving westerners (a couple of expat residents and even one western tourist), with all of them being given several year jail terms, many westerners have now decided they don’t want to support a country that has this law on the books. So tourists go elsewhere.
Red Shirts in Violent Clashes with Military in Thailand – Over the Songkran holiday this year, red shirts (anti-government forces) clashed with the police and military in Bangkok, with news footage all over the world showing cars and buses being burned in the street and the army and police out in force. If you were a tourist thinking of coming to Thailand, wouldn’t you be avoiding it too and booking your vacation somewhere else?
Yellow Shirts (PAD) Closing Suvarnabhumi Airport Stranding Tourists – The demonstrations began in Bangkok when the PAD (People’s Alliance for Democracy) began to demonstrate against ex-Prime Minister Thaksin and the democratically-elected government. With demonstrations increasing and an eventual taking-over of Suvarnabhumi Airport by the PAD, closing it down for over a week and stranding more than 300,000 tourists in Thailand, is it any wonder tourists don’t want to take the chance of being stuck in Thailand again?
The Thai government can blame H1N1 as much as it wants (no Thai government ever seems to want to take responsibility for the mess Thailand has now become), but this is not the case. With H1N1 in most countries in the world now, Thailand is no more risky than anywhere else. But, as long as the Thai government continues to make it more difficult for tourists to come here (stupid visa laws, high ATM fees, human rights violations, lese majeste laws and more), Thailand is likely to see less and less tourists coming here, and a continuing falling tourism rate.