Narathiwat –The key business and tourist districts inThailand’s southernmost provinces of Songkhla’s Hat Yai and Narathiwat’s Sungai Kolok have had to pay a heavy price for the ongoing violence in the region.
“Our tourism lost between 1.5 billion baht and 2 billion baht in income last year,” Mr Somchai Pimthanapoonporn, who chairs the Hat Yai Songkhla Hotels Association, said on Feb 22.
Even the recent Chinese New Year celebrations failed to fill hotels, he said.
The highest occupancy rate was just 70 per cent, while many other hotels had less than 50 per cent of their rooms booked during the festival.
“If there are not many tourists during Chinese New Year, you can hardly expect any business on normal days,” Mr Somchai said.
"We have to find solutions or else we are going to plunge into a crisis.”
Half ofSongkhla’s 100 hotels would have to close if tourism in the region does not pick up, he added.
Some 70 to 80 per cent of tourists visiting Hat Yai were Malaysians. “Without them, we will have a hard time,” Mr Somchai said.
Mr Aticha Chartyingcharoen, who chairs Songkhla Tourist Guide Association, said it was virtually impossible for tourist guides to find work during the past year when the number of Malaysian tourists slumped by more than 70 per cent.
In Narathiwat’s Sungai Kolok district, 22 hotels shut down because they were unable to shoulder the cost of staying open with little revenue coming in.
With the unrest in the south shows little sign of abating, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has set up a special team of 25 MPs and ministers as his representatives in the three southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat.
The 25 envoys have been tasked with winning the hearts of the locals by visiting every district of the three provinces within three months and listening to all their grievances.
A source told The Nation that Mr Thaksin came up with the new approach after his plan to withhold funds to villages deemed as sympathetic to Muslim separatists came under heavy fire.
“The government has done all that was needed during the past four years but unrest persists. So I would like to have all 25 of you to be like my magnifier, to find out what the people really want,” the source quoted Mr Thaksin as saying.
* Songkhla, Hat Yai, Sungai Kolok see a plunge in arrivals (The Nation, Feb 23)
* PM forms team to win hearts (The Nation, Feb 23)