BANGKOK – The political unrest in Thailand intensified last week as violent clashes erupted between anti-government protesters and pro-government supporters, leaving at least three people dead and forcing riot police to intervene.
Anti-government demonstrators took to the streets in November to protest against a proposed (and now rejected) amnesty bill put forward by current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra that could have allowed her brother, billionaire and exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to return to Thailand without serving jail time for corruption charges.
The tourism sector however has had an exceptional year as visitor arrivals reached nearly 16 million in Bangkok alone, making it theworld’s most visited city of 2013. So far, central Bangkok has been unscathed by the protests, which have been predominantly concentrated around Government House.
Walking down Bangkok’s main Sukhumvit road, there appears to be no indication of any political unrest with shops and businesses open as normal, while locals and tourists freely go about their daily routines. Yet with protests continuing in wider areas of Bangkok, tourism in the capital city is likely to take a hit. Harmil Singh, President & CEO of Compass Hospitality Group, operates 42 hotels and serviced apartments across Thailand.
Mr. Singh admits that his Bangkok properties have had some booking cancellations, however bookings at Compass’ resorts outside of Bangkok remain unaffected thus far. Commenting on the current situation, Mr. Singh points out that Thailand’s tourism industry has become remarkably buoyant and has done well to withstand major challenges, including the widespread protests in 2010 and devastating floods in 2011.
Despite Thailand’s display of economic resilience in the past, the recent string of protests has brought about concern within Bangkok’s business community. IT entrepreneur Alex Stamp, Managing Director of GoPomelo, believes it is unlikely that the anti-government protesters will withdraw as long as Yingluck Shinawatra’s party remains in power, resulting in what could be a lengthy political standoff with detrimental consequences on an already strained economy.
Yesterday, protests ceased in respect for the King of Thailand’s 86th birthday, however clashes appear to have resumed overnight with reports emerging of new violence near the Ministry of Finance. While there is no saying as to how the current state of Thai politics will play out, it can be anticipated that the resilience of the economy will continue to be tested in the weeks to come.