BANGKOK • The Thai tourism authorities are worried about huge cancellations of hotel bookings by Chinese tourists in the southern island resort of Phuket following a tragic boat accident.
So far, 7,300 Phuket hotel room bookings for July and August have been cancelled by Chinese tourists. Industry insiders say the number is likely to rise as more hotels report their booking status.
Chinese tourists account for as many as three million visitors in Phuket per year, while on average some 10 million Chinese tourists visit Thailand every year.
Mr Kongsak Kupongsakorn, president of the Southern Hoteliers' Association, said 19 member hotels had already reported cancellations while another 160 hotels have yet to file their reports.
The negative impact of the July 5 accident in which 47 people died is widespread and more serious than previously thought, he said.
Thailand has recovered the last body after the accident killed dozens of Chinese tourists. The Phoenix was carrying 105 people - mostly Chinese - when it sank on the way back from a popular snorkelling spot on July 5.
Divers and the navy spent more than a week retrieving bodies, some from inside the boat, as outraged relatives waited for news.
Phuket's PR department said late Sunday that the "last body of the dead from the Phoenix boat accident" was recovered that night. "All missing found," it added, putting the final death toll at 47.
The Phoenix was among three vessels which ignored a bad weather warning against day trips to the islands around Phuket.
Mr Chatchai Tipsunavee, permanent secretary at the Tourism and Sports Ministry, said a huge number of hotel room cancellations had been reported despite remedial measures taken by the Thai government after the accident.
At this stage, hotel room cancellations are said to account for 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the total business in the resort province.
Mr Chiaya Rapuepol, president of the Andaman Sea tourism business association, said the boat accident could cost as much as 42 billion baht (S$1.7 billion) in lost tourism and related revenues over the next two months. He urged the government to restore confidence in tourist safety as soon as possible to avoid even greater damage being caused to Phuket's 350-billion-baht-a-year tourism industry.
Phuket Governor Napat Prodthong wants the government to set up a command centre to regulate all Andaman Sea tourist activities in the nearby Phang Nga province. This command centre could take responsibility for Phuket, Krabi, Trang and Phang Nga provinces, he said, adding that Phuket will have its own vessel command units at Ao Por, Ratchata Harbour and Ao Chalong Harbour, with closed-circuit and surveillance TV systems installed.
Last Saturday, Mr Woraluk Reukch-aikan, managing director of TC Blue Dream, owner of the Phoenix boat, surrendered.
Relatives of 29 victims killed in the accident have been paid over 60 million baht in compensation.
THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE