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Thai coup is double-edged sword for Malaysia's tourism

The prolonged political turmoil in Thailand has brought advantages and problems for neighbouring Malaysia’s tourism industry.

KUALA LUMPUR: The prolonged political turmoil in Thailand has brought advantages and problems for neighbouring Malaysia’s tourism industry.

While Malaysia is seeing a slight jump in tourist arrivals in the past months, the tourism sector as a whole is hoping for a quick return to normalcy in Thailand.

Countries around the world are advising their nationals to avoid non-essential travel to Thailand. For a country that survives on tourism industry, that is a major blow.

Tourist Julia Tan said: "I wouldn't go to Thailand at the moment because I cannot experience the exotic food. They have this curfew - they cannot go out from 10pm to 5am."

To make things worse, more Thais are going abroad for holiday, fed up with continuous political turmoil in the country.

Tour guide Kamaraj Balarishnan said: "Now we have big Thai tourist groups coming to Malaysia.

“They are good shoppers - they can spend… especially those from Bangkok."

The government is hoping the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 campaign will draw 28 million tourists and generate US$24 billion in tourist receipts, and it is targeting Thai tourists.

It has increased its budget by 50 per cent for Thai travel companies to promote Malaysia by offering free hotel room upgrades and shopping and restaurant vouchers.

Dr Ong Hong Beng, secretary general of Malaysia’s Tourism Ministry, said: "What is important is there is peace and stability so at the moment, our focus is on Visit Malaysia. I think we will just do our best and concentrate our strategic promotions to meet our target."

Already, concerns over the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 are weighing heavily on some travellers.

With Thailand's military coup, inbound tours from Europe, US, as well as Asia, may be hit in the near term.

Balarishnan said: “When tourists come to Kuala Lumpur, they will (also) go to Bangkok, that's why (Malaysia’s tourism) is also affected.”

With so much at stake, it is no surprise that Malaysia, like many of its ASEAN neighbours, are calling for a peaceful end to the military coup as quickly as possible.  

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