Airlines, tour agents brace themselves against tourism slowdown in Thailand during national mourning

Chinese tourists cross a street near the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. Asia's airlines, tour agents and cruise operators are on alert for a tourism slowdown in Thailand. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (BLOOMBERG) - Asia's airlines, tour agents and cruise operators are on alert for a tourism slowdown in Thailand, where partying and drinking alcohol in public are off limits following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The government called on the country to avoid "joyful events" for 30 days and to dress in mourning for a year. Travel companies across the region say they are now trying to grasp the potential consequences for their businesses.

Hana Tour Service Inc., South Korea's biggest tour operator, expects demand to be hurt during the mourning period, a spokesman said. Representatives for Korean Air Lines Co. Asiana Airlines Inc. and Jetstar, which is owned by Qantas Airways Ltd., said they are monitoring the situation.

While it is too early to gauge the immediate impact on tourism, any alcohol restrictions and 12 months of mourning may make Thai resorts less attractive for some vacationers. Thailand has long been a favourite destination for European and Asian holidaymakers, who are drawn to Bangkok's nightlife and south-west island resorts such as Phuket. Tourism accounts for at least 10 per cent of the country's gross domestic product.

China's embassy in Thailand issued a notice on its website to remind Chinese tourists to follow the traditional customs at public places during this time.

The passing of the world's longest reigning monarch, at the age of 88, was announced on Thursday evening in Bangkok. The national broadcasting regulator banned entertainment programmes for 30 days and warned television and radio to follow palace protocol in airing news about the king's death.

Programming on every television channel in Thailand was replaced by documentaries about the king's life. The regulator said that would continue until further notice.

Ships run by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, Princess Cruises - which is owned by Carnival Corp - and Costa Cruises are among those due to visit Phuket this month.

A spokesman for Costa Cruises in Hong Kong said the company is assessing whether any changes need to be made. Royal Caribbean said it does not see any impact on bookings and does not plan to change itineraries. A Sydney-based spokesman for Princess Cruises said the company is checking for any impact on services from the king's death.

Some companies see little changes from the king's death. No tours have been called off so far, said Mr Steve Huen, executive director of Hong Kong-based travel agency EGL Tours.

And even if some shows like concerts are cancelled, there is flexibility to change trip schedules, he said.

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