Asian tourists have begun turning away from Thailand, official statistics show, prompting concern that holidaymakers might be avoiding the kingdom because of its continuing political woes.
The number of tourists arriving from East Asia dropped by 7.3 percent in the first two months of the year, compared to the same period last year, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) said.
"Sensitive Asian tourists, from Japan for example, have been scared away from Bangkok due to security concerns," said Pornthip Samerton, managing director of travel agent Destination Asia.
The TAT numbers showed a general drop-off in tourism in February tourists from around the world, as overall arrivals fell 6 percent from January. Arrivals were still slightly up from last year.
Pornthip said that many tourists may have reconsidered their travel plans following the New Year's Eve bomb blasts in Bangkok that killed three and injured dozens.
Meanwhile, a separatist insurgency in southern Thailand has sharply escalated, and the junta that took power in a coup last September has threatened to invoke a state of emergency in Bangkok over political protests.
"After the bombs, the political situation and the insurgency in the south have added to tourists' concerns. Meanwhile, changing regulations regarding foreign investments have had an impact on business arrivals," TAT spokesman Chattan Kunjara na Ayudhya said.
Foreign investment has fallen since the Bangkok of Thailand imposed tough currency controls in December, and the government in January proposed tightening foreign business rules.
"Those factors led to a decline of arrivals, and those from Asia fell short of our targets," he said.
Tourism is a key money spinner for Thailand, generating about 6 percent of GDP.
Tourism groups have also warned that Thailand could see its annual expected tourism earnings of 800 billion baht (US$22.85 billion) slashed by 10 percent because of a proposal to tighten rules on alcohol sales.
The new bill, which is awaiting approval from parliament, bans alcohol sales within 500m of schools, temples and government offices. That would prevent many bars and restaurants from selling alcohol, the Federation of Thai Tourism Associations said.
Separately, Malaysian police will be made to explain a 40 percent surge in crime this year in Kuala Lumpur, with fears it will undermine a drive to boost tourism, reports said yesterday.
Deputy Internal Security Minister Johari Baharum said he wanted an explanation for the rising rate in the first three months of the year.
Malaysia is aiming to boost tourist arrivals to 20.1 million this year up from some 17.5 million last year.
The minister said crimes on the rise include bag snatch thefts, gambling and vice activities.
"This year is Visit Malaysia Year and we do not want the problem to smear the country's image," he was quoted as saying by the Bernama news agency.