Strife in Thailand hurts tourism By Jeri Clausing & Michelle Baran / September 03, 2008 Share 1 -- The political standoff in Thailand is starting to impact tourism, according to the Pacific Asia Travel Association.Although almost all tourism facilities and services are operating normally and protests are currently limited to a small area of Bangkok, PATA said it is starting to see cancellations.Five countries have issued warnings about traveling to Thailand, where Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej has declared a state of emergency following clashes among protesters in Bangkok and temporary disruption at regional airports, including Phuket."Many of Thailand's prospective visitors are understandably reluctant to travel when they hear about a state of emergency being declared and see images of violent clashes in media reports," PATA President and CEO Peter de Jong said in a statement. "The reality, however, is that life is continuing as normal in Bangkok and Thailand and that, as of today, there is minimal threat to the safety of visitors to the Kingdom."PATA member Asian Trails said it has received cancellations and has implemented contingencies for clients affected by the temporary disruption of domestic rail and air services."We hope that by end of this week things will return to normal, in which case damage will be limited to maybe 10% of September arrivals and 5% of October arrivals," said Asian Trails boss Luzi Matzig.Ashish Sanghrajka, president Stuart, Fla.-based Big Five Tours & Expeditions, said there were cancellations of vacations entirely focused on Thailand."People who were taking a trip to Thailand are rerouting to other parts of Asia," said Sanghrajka. "It would not have been such an issue if the airports had not been affected."On Tuesday, Thai Airways, Thai AirAsia and Nok Air canceled flights out of Hat Yai International Airport, where hundreds of protestors forced the airport to shut down for a second time in one week due to unrest, the Bangkok Post reported.John Koldowski, director of PATA's strategic intelligence center, said September is traditionally the low season for international travel to Thailand, so the impact could be minimal if things return to normal soon.PATA member Indochina Services Travel Group's bookings and client itineraries have not been affected by events thus far."As long as the demonstrations remain non-violent and localized to a small area, we feel the impact will be minimal even if it is not resolved for a few weeks," said CEO Gregory Duffell.However, Dufffell and Matzig said the biggest challenge for the Thai travel and tourism industry will be restoring the reputation of the destination in the wake of media coverage and travel advisories.