Political woes put brakes on airport traffic

Passenger traffic through Suvarnabhumi airport during the Chinese New Year holiday appears stagnant, with the political turmoil in Bangkok dampening double-digit growth projected before the crisis flared up.

Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT) projects 2.03 million passengers will pass through Thailand's main gateway between Jan 27 and Feb 8, representing a 0.64% drop from the volume recorded during last year's festive season.

AoT's traffic projection is based on both the numbers of flights booked through the airport and the seating capacity of the aircraft.

Scheduled airlines and charter operators are putting 658 extra flights through the airport during the 13-day holiday period, mostly from China, with China Eastern Airlines the top adder with 198.

Suvarnabhumi general manager Rawewan Netrakavesna said 602 of the extra flights are international and 56 domestic.

Don Mueang airport, where the bulk of Chinese tourists descend into Bangkok, is servicing at least an extra daily flight or two during the festive season.

The fact that airlines have requested extra flights for the holiday season mean the Chinese, Thailand's largest tourist market, are not entirely taken aback by the civil unrest in the Thai capital that began last October.

Mrs Rawewan said the slower growth in Chinese traffic during this period cannot be blamed entirely on the political situation in Bangkok but instead reflects Beijing's new tourism law clamping down on substandard outbound tour packages.

Don Mueang general manager Chaturongkapon Sodmanee said Chinese tourists are still flying into Bangkok in significant numbers for the Lunar New Year and can be divided into three categories.

"There are those who made advance bookings; repeat visitors who are familiar with the Thai political situation and are concerned; and those who transit through Bangkok to other Thai destinations of choice such as Chiang Mai or Phuket," he told the Bangkok Post.

Most airlines are still operating through Bangkok's two airports as usual in terms of frequencies.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand projects Chinese spending during the holiday season at 11 billion baht.

Full-year Chinese arrivals are expected to grow by 14.9% to 5.4 million.\

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