Official figures from the Thai tourism industry - a major contributor to the kingdom’s GDP - show that the country has been strongly affected by political troubles and the May 22 coup, showing a 10.2 percent drop in tourist arrivals for the first semester compared to last year.
Tourism authorities have been scrambling to try to reverse the trend with measures from free visas for overseas visitors to marketing extravaganza.
“We don’t think we can achieve our target of 28 million tourists this year. For the whole year, there should be at least a small drop compared to the 26.7 million figure of last,” Pornthip Hirunkate, vice-president in charge of marketing at the Tourism Council of Thailand told the Anadolu Agency Thursday.
In the last decades, Thailand has shown a constant year-on-year increase in the number of tourist arrivals despite natural catastrophes - the Boxing Day 2004 Tsunami, which devastated the country's southwestern coastal region - or political unrest.
For decades, Thailand has been one of the favorite tourism destinations in Asia due to its combination of ancient Buddhist temples, paradisiac beaches and animated nightlife - catering to the needs of different tourists, from archeology amateurs to lonely souls in search of exotic love.
Since November last year, massive anti-government demonstrations have paralyzed large sections of the capital, while violence has periodically erupted, leading to the loss of 28 lives. On May 22, the army seized power under the pretext of re-establishing order and imposed martial law across the country. Since then, demonstrations have ceased but a climate of fear is pervasive with hundreds of opponents to the coup being summoned and detained and freedom of speech strongly restricted.
Some think that the coming high season, starting in October, is already in jeopardy.
“The key factor for the hotel business is lifting the martial law, at least in resort destinations such as Phuket, Krabi, Samui island, Hua Hin and Cha-am. Martial law is influencing tour groups’ decision to visit Thailand,” Surapong Techaruvichit, president of the Thai hotels association, told media.
The tourism sector contributes 20 percent to Thai GDP and employs millions of Thais. Chinese have taken over Europeans as the largest proportion of incoming tourists with 4.7 millions arrivals last year.
“When there are political issues in China, it is quite serious, that is why the Chinese are always afraid of political troubles,” Hirunkate told AA.
"By comparison the proportion of Europeans tourists has increased by 5 percent in the first semester of this year, a sign, according to Thai tourism authorities of “their resilience and their good understanding of the Thai situation."
As for the steep drop in the number of Middle-Eastern tourists – visits from Kuwait down 54 percent, UAE down 58 percent and Saudi Arabia 78 percent - analysts seem at a loss to explain the decline, except to say that it is “probably because of politics.”
Thailand is usually a favorite shopping destination for Middle-Eastern tourists, who also come to the kingdom for the good quality and affordable healthcare.
Reacting to the bad figures, the Thai junta has approved this month a free visa policy for Chinese tourists, starting August 1.
A major marketing extravaganza under the name “Thailand happiness: Street festival” has also been organized this week in downtown Bangkok with beauty queens parades and the release of 10,000 “smiley balloons”.
It has also invited 900 international travel trade journalists to the kingdom for the occasion.
Signs of a pick-up in the number of tourist arrivals are already showing.
“We are starting seeing an improvement with an increase of tourists each day. The high season should be better for us,” said Hirunkate.