Update: We just heard about another bomb attack in Sathorn (near Sapan Taksin BTS) at 1pm on August 18th, 2015.
The Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office strongly condemns the blast in Bangkok. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of the horrible bomb attack in Bangkok last night.
A bomb planted at one of the Thai capital’s most renowned shrines on Monday killed 19 people, including three foreign tourists, and wounded scores in an attack the government called a bid to destroy the economy.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast at the Erawan shrine at a major city-center intersection. Thai forces are fighting a low-level Muslim insurgency in the predominantly Buddhist country’s south, but those rebels have rarely launched attacks outside their heartland.
“The perpetrators intended to destroy the economy and tourism, because the incident occurred in the heart of the tourism district,” Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told Reuters.
The Bangkok Post, citing the Royal Thai Police, put the death toll at 19, with 123 injured, as of 11:20 pm (1.20 p.m. EDT). National police chief Somyot Poompanmuang told reporters the attack was unprecedented in Thailand.
“It was a pipe bomb,” Somyot said. “It was placed inside the Erawan shrine.”
The shrine, on a busy corner near top hotels, shopping centers, offices and a hospital, is a major attraction, especially for visitors from East Asia, including China. Many ordinary Thais also worship there.
Two people from China and one from the Philippines were among the dead, a tourist police officer said. Media said most of the wounded were from China and Taiwan.
It remains to be seen how the incident will affect tourism to Bangkok….
While Singapore and Hong Kong have seen hefty drops in the number of tourists arriving from mainland China the opposite has been happening in Thailand.
The number arriving in the country in the first half was close to four million, more than double the number recorded in the same period in 2014.
Spending by Chinese tourists leaped even higher, by 138% to 190.9 billion baht (US$5.4 billion).
Chinese spending was easily the biggest contributor to tourist revenue, which hit 697.5 billion Baht (US$19.79 billion), an increase of 29.69% year on year, according to preliminary figures released this week by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports.
Thailand’s neighbour, Malaysia, provided the second largest number of tourists in the first half – 1.7 million, who between them spent 39.8 billion baht (US$ 1.13 billion).
In third place in terms of spending were UK tourists, with 463,000 arrivals recorded, a modest increase of 2.73%. They spent 32.45 billion baht (US$921 million), an increase of 4.55% over the first half of 2014.
Russians, despite a drop of 50% in numbers and an equivalent fall in spending, still came in fourth place, emptying their wallets of 31.8 billion baht – just over US$900 million.
The slide in the value of the Thai baht against major currencies in the past month may have played a role in the soaring numbers. But the Ministry may also take some credit for shifting the decades-long focus away from attracting greater numbers of tourists – no matter how much they spend – and towards getting each tourist to spend more.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand is, not surprisingly, predicting record figures for the year: 28.8 million arrivals spending 1.4 trillion baht (US$40 billion).
Now, it remains to be seen how the bombing will impact tourism to Thailand, especially Bangkok, and how it may also effect other neighbouring Mekong countries, such as Laos and Cambodia. Especially Chinese tourists and tourists from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore are very sensitive when it comes to situations like that.
Concerns are growing that the bombing will hurt the country’s important tourism industry. The hospitality business is one of the few sectors showing growth this year, as sluggish exports and private consumption weigh down the rest of the economy. MasterCard forecast that only London would receive more foreign visitors than Bangkok this year. In particular, the country has benefited in recent years from an influx of tourists from China. Monday’s bombing killed four people from China, including two from Hong Kong, according to Xinhua, China’s state news agency. Hong Kong and Singapore issued travel advisories recommending that travelers cancel nonessential trips to Bangkok.
Ittirat Kinglake, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, said some visitors had canceled trips to Thailand. “There could be some effect, but only in the short term,” he said, adding that under normal circumstances, Thailand could attract as many as 29 million visitors this year, a record. “We will have to re-evaluate the number.”
The government previously estimated that 28 million people would visit the country this year, generating an expected $61 billion in revenue. On Monday night, Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan accused whoever planted the bomb of striking what he described as an economic target. He vowed to step up security to protect foreign visitors. Many of the buildings in the area deployed security guards to search the bags of people entering.
The attack has also had a profound effect on many Thais who flock to the Erawan Shrine, which is regarded as an important spiritual site here.
Sources: Travel Weekly Asia, Bloomberg News, Reuters