Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thailand Tourism -
Some Green Shoots at Last!

BANGKOK, Nov 4 - Thailand's tourism industry, much affected by domestic political conflicts and the global economic slowdown, has now recovered with about 14 million foreign tourists expected to visit the kingdom in 2009 as earlier targeted, according to Minister of Tourism and Sports Chumphon Silpa-archa.

Mr Chumphon said that more than 9.8 million foreign tourists visited Thailand between January and September, while an average of 30,000 travellers arrived in the kingdom at Suvarnabhumi Airport every day in October.

He said that for 12 days in October, the country's main airport Suvarnabhumi welcomed more than 30,000 tourists daily.

By the end of December, the minister said, the number of foreign tourists Visiting Thailand for this calendar year will reach or surpass 14 million, the number of visitors the ministry had earlier targeted.

Mr Chumphon added that a number of charter flights landing at the country's renowned seaside resorts of Phuket ,Krabi ,Khao Lak and Koh Samui also increased in the same period, leading to full hotel occupancy in the areas.

In the northern region, especially Chiang Mai ,Mr Chumphon said he has been informed by the president of the Chiang Mai Tourism Business Association that the hotel occupancy rate there is between 65 and 80 per cent.

He said it is likely that the number will increase as many interesting events and activities will be held in November and December, the winter season, including the Royal Flora Expo to celebrate the birthday of His Majesty the King on December 5.

Source: Enews MCOT 4th November 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

Chiang Mai Desperate for Strong High Season Tourism

Tourism operators in Chiang Mai are desperately hoping for promising business in the coming high season as room reservations by foreign tourists are still very low and trips by local travellers are not enough to offset them.

Reservations in Chiang Mai are still very low for the November-April period as some foreign tourists have delayed their decisions due to the lingering impact of the global recession.

However, the Thai Hotels Association's Northern Chapter expects more local tourists to travel to Chiang Mai when the Weather gets Cooler .They may plan their trips a week in advance and that should help the local operators to a certain degree by the end of this year.

Kanog Suvannavisutr, the association's president, said it projected an average high-season occupancy rate at 65% at most, compared with 67% in the same period last year. For the latest off-season (May-September), the rate dropped to 36%.

"Apart from the hotel oversupply problem, global economic problems, local political instability and the H1N1 flu are key factors dragging down Chiang Mai tourism," he added.

Mr Kanog said two-star hotels survived with some bookings because their rates were low, not more than 800 baht per night, and thus attracted local tourists and backpackers.

Four-star hotels with conference facilities are also getting some business because conferences are an important market for Chiang Mai. Their room rates are modest, at about 1,500 per night in the low season. The average occupancy of such four-star hotels wa 50%, which is very good for hotels in Chiang Mai.

Meanwhile, five-star hotels are in deep trouble because they cannot compete with four-star ones that offer room rates at almost half the price. Their occupancy is only 20% as a result.

Mr Kanog said hoteliers in Chiang Mai were also facing tough competition from apartments, which draw travellers during the high season, even though the law prohibits apartments from providing accommodation on a daily basis.

"Despite complaints made by hoteliers, apartments still accommodate guests on a daily basis. This is because the fine is small," Mr Kanog said.

In any case, operators hope that the economy will improve next year. The improvement should increase the purchasing power of tourists, especially foreign ones, and they should return to Chiang Mai, he said.

Source: Bangkok Post - 26th October 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

At Last Some Good News!

Total passenger traffic at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport grew by 22.4% year-on-year in September to 3.1 million.

Aircraft movements at Suvarnabhumi, Thailand's main gateway, grew 9.7% to 20,636, says Airports of Thailand. The airport's freight traffic fell 4.9% to 96,580 tonnes.

Apart from Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports, AOT also operates airports in Chiang Mai ,Chiang Rai ,Phuket ,and Hat Yai.

Passenger traffic for all six airports grew 18% to 4.1 million in September. Total freight movements fell 6.3% to 101,164 tonnes.

Source: Greg Waldron - 21st October 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nursing Home for Aged Jumbos!

BANGKOK - Thailand has set up its first nursing home for elderly elephants in Lampang province, already the home of two elephant hospitals, media reports said Tuesday.

The Pang-La Nursing Home for Aged Elephants will be officially opened Nov 21, in Ngao district of Lampang, 490 km north of Bangkok, the Bangkok Post reported.

Situated on a 153-hectare plot with its own small river for elephant bathing, the shelter will be operated by the Forest Industry Organization (FIO), which also runs the Elephant Hospital in the province.

Lampang has another pachyderm hospital operated by the Friends of Asian Elephants Society, a private charity.

“We already have about 30 old and disabled elephants at the shelter,” FIO chief Manoonsak Tantiwat said. The nursing home will be able to handle up to 200 pachyderms when operating at full capacity, he added.

The nursing home will take care of the elephants “until their last breath”, Manoonsak said.

Thailand has more than 2,000 domesticated elephants, which were previously used as beasts of burden in the country’s forestry industry but are now jobless, as a result of government bans on logging.

In recent years, elephant owners have shifted to the tourism sector and begging in Bangkok to earn money off the massive mammals, that were once the national symbol gracing the flag when Thailand was still called Siam.
Source: Bangkok Post - 20th October 2009

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Elephant Nature Park

"The Elephant Nature Park rescues and takes in abused or abandoned elephants throughout Thailand. It receives no funding whatsoever from the Thai government and depends on the efforts from volunteers and sponsors locally and abroad."

I take a flight from Bangkok heading north to the city of Chiang Mai .Thailand is the seventh stop in my travels – I have been gone 3 months.

The country is rampant with tourists; backpackers formulate a large portion of this demographic. Thailand can be a playground of sorts and I fear that far too many will only know this side of the country. However, long before the illicitness of Thailand wrangled me in, I made a point while still in Canada to look into elephant sanctuaries in South East Asia, and settled on one an hour outside of Chiang Mai: The Elephant Nature Park.

When I was younger I watched Babar with great revelry, made the elephant pavilion the first stop in every zoo visit, and held my breath with great anticipation when the giants would march in the finale of a parade. I suppose this childhood zeal dwindled with time and was replaced instead with more self-indulgent fascinations. Perhaps as an attempted homage to a childhood gone by, my travels bubbled with eagerness as it built up to my elephant encounters.

The Elephant Nature Park rescues and takes in abused or abandoned elephants throughout Thailand. It receives no funding whatsoever from the Thai government and depends on the efforts from volunteers and sponsors locally and abroad.

Lek Chailert is the founder of the park and is a woman of dynamic abilities. She is unwavering in her dedication to the animals and has made it her sole purpose in life to aid and assist the dwindling population of Asian elephants. At present date, she has over 30 elephants, 50 dogs, 30 cats and a number of water buffalo – all of which have sought refuge at her park and in turn, found a home full of love and compassion.

One of Lek's most ardent ventures is that of freeing domesticated elephants from the oppressive confines of the tourist industry throughout the country. The process by which an elephant is domesticated or "broken" is one of gross indecency and cruelty.

Lek allowed me to watch a portion of a documentary she is putting together. The footage was jarring, as it showed hidden camera recordings of a young elephant undergoing this process.

They are taken from their mothers and put into a wooden crate they so affectionately term the "crusher". They proceed to deprive it of food and water for days, all the while hacking and prodding at it with tools designed to carnage the very skin meant to protect them. They are beaten into submission and it is believed that this traumatizing hazing is the only method of ensuring the animals will obey their mahout, or handler.

Once deemed ready for use, the elephants are sold into numerous trades: logging, elephant trekking (riding), street begging and elephant painting, to name a few. All of the elephants at the park, babies exempt, have been broken and all have been used by humans in some way or another.

Many look to you through hazed milky eyes, made blind by rocks flung on slingshots as reminders of who is in charge. All bare scars, evidence of power assertion at the hands of callous mahouts. Many struggle to walk with hips or legs that resemble a clumsy piecing together of joints and bones, mangled by trade-inflicted injuries. Each have a harrowing story – such as Max, who was rescued by Lek after years as a working elephant.

His first role was in elephant trekking and was beaten, chained and abandoned after continually trying to shake off the uncomfortable harness. After escaping he was once again enslaved, this time he remained chained outside a temple for 3 years with a donation box sitting beside him. And finally he was used as a street beggar in Bangkok to entice hoards of heavy-pocketed tourists. One evening after work while being led out of the city he was struck by an 18-wheel truck and dragged 15 feet.

For me, the most shocking part of my time spent at the park was not the gravity of what the animals had endured, it was their ability to love. They treated the visitors with boisterous affection and playfulness. They bound together as surrogate siblings, parents and friends. The mahouts at the park were void of weapons and used instead body language and verbal commands as means to ensure safety.

On the day I left the park, Max lay surrounded by his friends, elephants and humans alike. He had finally succumbed to his long-standing injuries and passed away, I hope, with the knowledge that in the end, he was loved.

I rounded out the remainder of my time in Thailand by doing a Jungle Trek .Included in this two day adventure was elephant trekking. I told my leader I would not be participating and instead stayed back at the base. I wandered around in disbelief that my worst fears had been confirmed. The mahouts mounted the elephants, weapons in hand. Small axes or sticks with nails on the end were swung to and fro in such a cavalier manner I struggled to watch.

One elephant, months old and too young to be used in the treks, sauntered around unchained. I approached her and she reacted with interest and curiosity. I spent a long while with her; she wrapped her trunk around my legs and nudged at me playfully. Once she finished feeding from her mother she would be taken and broken. As she galloped around jovially, flitting a leaf through the air in her trunk, my eyes swelled with tears at the knowledge of what awaited her. I made a silent promise to her that I would do my part to help.

Author: Alison Martin