The car bomb attacks in Hat Yai have hurt tourism and local business, leading more than half of 12,500 room bookings for Songkran to be cancelled.
Somchart Pimthanapoonporn, who heads the Songkhla Tourism Business Council and the Hat Yai-Songkhla Hoteliers Association, said it would take three to six months for the situation to return to normal.
Debris litters the ground outside a McDonald’s at Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel after Saturday’s bombing in Hat Yai. Experts are pleading for a more active government role in securing the region and salvaging its reputation as casualties mount from the southern insurgency. THITI WANNAMONTHA
"Operators not only in tourism but also other businesses are not confident in the security standard of the government," he said.
Kongkrit Hiranyakit, president of policy and planning for the Tourism Council of Thailand, said the council expected the bomb attacks to result in a loss of 200 million baht in revenue from tourism during Songkran.
Earlier, the council had forecast the water-splashing festival to generate more than 500 million baht.
"The government should seriously talk with the private sector there, especially about security in hotels, public areas, even department stores," Mr Kongkrit said. "Besides, it should organise a big event to recover the tourism image of Hat Yai after the situation starts improving."
Tanit Sorat, vice-chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI), said a short-term hit to tourism and confidence was unavoidable given the high number of casualties in the bombing.
"Car bombs didn't happen for many years in Thailand, and this time as many as 11 people were killed while hundreds were injured," Mr Tanit said. "The incident in Hat Yai occurred in the main shopping area, thus tourism and confidence will certainly see immediate effects.
"What worries me is that tourism in other southern provinces such as Phuket, Phangnga and Krabi will also be hurt."
He urged beefed-up security in public places such as hotels and shopping malls and called on the government to quickly explain the situation to the outside world.
With international tourists, especially Malaysians, about to come to Thailand, the state cannot just ignore the case and let foreign media tell the story, said Dr Tanit.
He advised the government to revamp its measures for tackling the southern insurgency, including learning what other countries such as Israel have done in dealing with separatist attacks.
Nearly all companies and investors do not want to operate in the Deep South any more, Dr Tanit said.
Surachai Jitpukdeebodintra, president of the Thai Chamber of Commerce of Songkhla, said the chamber would call a meeting tomorrow of parties from both the public and private sectors to brainstorm safety and security measures for restoring tourist confidence and to assemble relief packages for victims.
"Bombings deliver a direct hit to tourism, one of the key revenue streams of Songkhla on top of the agricultural and industrial sectors," he said. "But more important is how long the impact will be and the measures the government and private sector must enact to rehabilitate the city."
According to Mr Surachai, life and general insurance packages will possibly be offered to quickly restore tourist trust.