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Tourists to Thailand drops by half

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The number of international tourists to Thailand plunged more than 50 percent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2009, with the forward hotel bookings also sluggish due to the current A/H1N1 flu threat, Thai tourism associations said Monday.

Chinese, Japanese and South Korean tourists represented much of the drop in visitor numbers between January and April, The Nation said on its website quoting Association of Thai Travel Agents president Surapol Sritrakul.

The recent outbreak of A/H1N1 flu has become the latest obstacle to tourism, along with the prolonged worldwide economic crisis and internal political problems, Surapol said.

He added that it’s too soon to predict the impact of the new strain of flu on tourism since there is no confirmed case in Thailand yet.

“If the disease reaches this country, the tourism sector will suffer an even greater impact,” he said.

The flu is also hitting outbound tourism business, with local travel agencies now receiving cancellations of trips to flu-infected countries.

Thai Hotels Association president Prakit Chinamour-phong said new bookings from abroad are reportedly very slow, particularly for the next two months.

Tourism Council of Thailand chairman Kongkrit Hiranyakit estimates the tourism sector will decline 30 percent in the first half of the year and possibly 20 percent for the whole year.

The tourism sector, generating about 540 billion baht (about 15. 4 million US dollars) annually, makes up more than 6 percent of Thailand’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 7 percent of its work force.

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