Thailand offers Sars-free haven for Gulf tourists

Thailand is Sars free.

By Babu Kalyanpur

Arab travellers have been reassured that Thailand is Sars free and intensive measures are in place to ensure their safety in the kingdom.

Thailand has not reported any cases of local transmission of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars), but eight infections have been recorded.

"The problem is tourists confuse Thailand with Taiwan which has Sars cases," says national carrier Thai president Kanok Abhiradee.

"Thailand is Sars free and we have introduced strong safety measures to avoid outbreaks here," he said.

The number of tourists arriving into the kingdom fell 55 per cent in May, causing a major impact on the tourism industry.

Thailand's hotel occupancy is expected to fall by almost half in the first six months of this year to 25 per cent from a year earlier period.

"We have lost about 25 per cent of tourists from the Middle East after the Sars outbreak.

"However, we like to reassure them that Thailand is safe and secure."

Thailand is launching a 500 million baht ($12 million) campaign to convince tourists that it is Sars free, tourism authorities have revealed.

"Thai Airways has taken all precautions on its aircraft to prevent Sars. Our Crisis Management and Operation Centre manages our preventive measures," says Abhiradee.

"For example, all our aircraft are disinfected with spray and all aircraft surfaces are thoroughly cleaned.

"Air circulation has also been increased while on flight. We also limit the flight times for those departing from Bangkok to conduct quick turnarounds so that aircraft are not parked overnight at airports located in high-risk countries," he said.

Travellers from the Middle East have been apprehensive that Thailand is not a family destination. The nightlife has been of major concern to conservative Arab travellers.

"We are trying to communicate better to offer Thailand as a destination for the entire family. This should appeal to Middle East travellers.

"We are also making efforts to offer them halal meat so that they will face no problems with their food," he added.

With Thailand trying hard to regain its tourists, high-risk Far East countries are left counting the costs of loss of tourism revenue.

Hong Kong has lost $230 million due to the tourism slide in May. Vietnam hotels are offering "buy two get one free" in their drive to revive tourism.

Thailand's major efforts to get back tourists have started.