Travel security: Unrest in Thailand

Travel security: Unrest in Thailand

Months of political unrest in Bangkok and other popular Thailand destinations haven’t seriously affected tourism in “the land of smiles.”

Protesters, who took to the streets beginning October 2013, are calling for the removal of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra after she tried to pass a bill granting amnesty to several individuals who had participated in past political violence.

Most recently, protesters held an “occupation” of Bankok in mid-January, blocking roads and major intersections. Police forces responded with violence, which led to several deaths and injuries during the following days. A week later, the government declared a state of emergency. The emergency decree gives authorities the power to impose curfews, detain suspects without charge, ban political gatherings of more than five people, censor media and declare parts of the capital off-limits. Protests are expected to continue at least through the beginning of February, when a nationwide election is planned.

Thailand tourism has been in repair mode for the past decade, after taking hits from events like SARS, the 2004 tsunami, and the 2010 political protests. Nonetheless, visitors determined to see Chiang Mai, Krabi, and Phuket have been undeterred for the most part. Despite the travel warnings for Thailand, tourism numbers are up in 2013 over 2012 figures. A lower-than expected number of visitors, 25.8 million, was offset by the average daily rate of hotels, which climbed by 7%.

That’s because Thailand has set up traveler infrastructure, including a “Passenger Assistance Center” consisting of airport personnel and representatives from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, in Bangkok’s main airport. Public transportation has continued to run throughout the days of protest and indeed is the most reliable means of transport in Bangkok amid road closures and rallies. Despite this, experts are predicting, however, that continued demonstrations will result in a 5% decline in visitor numbers for 2014.

The U.S. Department of State issued a travel alert in advance of the election scheduled for February 2, warning of the “unpredictable and ongoing demonstration activity.” However, most protests have been peaceful and away from tourist centers. Banks, hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions are all open, and visitors have never been a target during this unrest. If you’re planning to visit Thailand, we recommend a good dose of common sense, along with a robust travel insurance policy and a knowledgeable local guide for those who plan to explore further afield.