Thailand’s medical tourism affected by army coup

Thailand’s medical tourism affected by army coup
June 05 01:00 2014

On the morning of 20 May, the chief of the Royal Thai Army declared martial law across the whole of Thailand. There is an increased military presence and soldiers have taken over TV and radio stations, and blocked off roads in the capital, Bangkok, and in neighbouring provinces. The army insists that its assumption of responsibility for national security was not a coup, but as government has not been consulted about the army’s decision, it is effectively a military coup.

The situation is evolving and any company sending people to Thailand should monitor local news and social media for developments. Tourists have been warned to allow extra time for journeys, including to the Bangkok airports.

Any agency sending medical tourists to Thailand must consider what would happen if a medical tourist gets innocently caught up in the situation.

Several governments have warned their citizens to think again before travelling to Thailand. The UAE has warned citizens not to travel to Thailand, which may affect the established medical tourism flow from the region.

Insurance organizations have warned that because the intervention is a military one, many travel insurances could no longer be valid nor provide full cover.

Martial law supersedes the Internal Security Act, which had previously been imposed by the government. Martial law provides an enabling framework for the Royal Thai Army to take action it deems necessary to enforce law and order, and instructions can change rapidly.

Political demonstrations continue in and around Bangkok and elsewhere in Thailand, including Phuket. There have been indiscriminate attacks involving weapons and explosives at protest sites and at protest marches causing casualties and deaths. Attacks have taken place during the daytime and at night.

Protest action has caused significant disruption to roads in affected areas, with knock-on effects across the city. The situation is unpredictable and further protests are expected.

By law tourists must carry a passport with them at all times. Tourists have been arrested because they were unable to produce their passport. There is a nationwide curfew for all residents and visitors; all need to be indoors between 10pm and 5am.

The military measure caught the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) by surprise as they were about to launch a range of tactical campaigns aimed at Europe and the Middle East to retain tourists confidence and ensure the growth of the country’s tourism industry .The campaign is on hold.

While many areas in the country are unaffected, many medical travelers either go to Bangkok, which is at the centre of the troubles, or go through airports that are being affected by political demonstrators. Airlines are taking decisions by the hour.

With an increasing number of countries warning citizens to be cautious about traveling to Thailand, it is inevitable that the numbers of tourists and medical tourists to Thailand will fall in 2014.

Mario Hardy at the Pacific Asia Travel Association in Bangkok predicts that visitor numbers will fall by at least 5% this year, “Tourism is a huge income for the country, so this military intervention is not helping. It is not good for Bangkok and not good for tourism in Thailand.”

The Tourism Authority of Thailand insists that international visitors can continue to travel in the destination as usual, “All public transport and tourist attractions, including airports, tourist sites and shopping malls, are currently open and operating as normal.”

With tourism accounting for 10% of the country’s gross domestic product, keeping hotels and shopping malls open and busy is key for South-east Asia’s second-largest economy. Because of the troubles, even before the military action, in the first four months of the year, foreign arrivals dropped 5 % — about 400,000 —compared to 2013, figures from the Thai Department of Tourism show.

Bangkok hospitals report lower medical tourism numbers for 2014. Bangkok Dusit has seen a drop of more than 30 % in patients from the Middle East this year. Bangkok is suffering from a dramatic drop in visitors, a trend that is indicative of a much great problem in Thailand’s tourism industry. Those reliant on tourism in the city are noting the especially clear absence of Chinese visitors. Even before the military intervention, the first 4 months of 2014 has become a disaster for Bangkok tourism. Tourism arrivals at airports fell 38% on 2013 and Chinese numbers are down 48.1%, Russian numbers are down 40% and Indian, Japanese and South Korean arrivals at least 30% down. Many tourists are staying away because of the state of the economy and a lack of spending confidence and some are calling this the worst tourism crisis in a long time.

Thailand is now also in danger of losing its crown as the world’s top destination for medical tourism if foreigners looking for low-cost, quality healthcare are frightened away by the political unrest.

See more at IMTJ
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