Bangkok blast: Tourism unaffected, Junta says

People hold a candlelight vigil to pay their respects to the people who died at the Erawan shrine on Aug 24, 2015.
People hold a candlelight vigil to pay their respects to the people who died at the Erawan shrine on Aug 24, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thailand's junta on Tuesday insisted the crucial tourist industry has been unaffected by last week's bomb attack which killed 20 people, mostly foreigners, saying visitor numbers remained "at a normal level".

The bombing at the Bangkok's Erawan shrine was Thailand's worst single mass-casualty attack.

But the trail is growing increasingly cold as police scramble to locate a prime suspect captured on CCTV leaving a bag moments before the blast.

The majority of those killed were ethnic Chinese worshippers from across Asia, who flocked to the shrine in large numbers despite it being devoted to the Hindu god Brahma in the belief that prayers there bring good fortune.

The attack, the first of its kind to kill large numbers of visitors to Thailand, has damaged its reputation as a welcoming and safe travel destination But the military government has been at pains to play down any suggestion visitors might be put off from visiting.

"The number of tourists in prominent tourist attractions both in Bangkok and other provinces is still high," Colonel Winthai Suvaree, a spokesman for the junta, said Tuesday in a daily broadcast, without giving any numbers.

"The Ministry of Tourism and Sports has further reported that the statistics of foreign tourists travelling into Thailand is at the normal level," he added.

Authorities have yet to make an arrest or say which group was behind the blast. But they have repeatedly said it was carried out by a network and aimed at damaging the tourism industry.

However, they have also been adamant that Chinese tourists - who visit Thailand in larger numbers than any other nationality - were not singled out.

"We are sure the target is not only Chinese," national police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri told reporters late Monday without elaborating.

Nonetheless, tour operators and hotels that cater to the Chinese have told AFP that some were cancelling trips.

However analysts say it is too soon to know whether tourism has taken a hit.

Tourism accounts for about 10 percent of Thailand's economy and had until recently been one of its few bright spots amid flagging exports and low consumer confidence.