The number of Chinese and Japanese visitors to Thailand is expected to drop sharply in coming months, due to the spread of the type-A (H1N1) flu virus.
The Thai-Chinese Tourism Association (TCTA) projects that tourist arrivals from China will plunge by 600,000 over the next six months, due to stricter travel requirements imposed by Beijing.
The Thai-Japan Tourist Association (TJTA) said Japanese arrivals would likely fall by about 600,000 in the second half.
The only types of visitors from these countries are individual tourists and businessmen, said the associations.
TJTA president Anake Srichevachart said the Japanese government was also discouraging its citizens from travelling within Japan, due to fears the domestic outbreak, which has currently affected mainly Osaka and Kobe, will spread to other parts of the country.
The official number of people infected with the H1N1 flu virus in Japan rose to 178 yesterday. The authorities reacted by closing more than 4,000 schools, colleges and kindergartens for the rest of the week, to slow the spread.
TJTA members will meet tomorrow to seek remedial measures in the face of the expected sharp fall in Japanese arrivals.
"The situation is now worse than [what happened in the wake of] the rioting here in April as far as Japanese tourist numbers are concerned," said Anake.
TCTA president Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn said Thailand's tourism had been immediately affected, as tour firms in China are barred from bringing tourists out of the country. One of the Chinese authorities' new policies in the wake of the H1N1 scare is to encourage domestic travel, which will mean the number of tourists visiting Thailand could show negative growth this year, he said.
"The Chinese government is very serious [about containment]. If a passenger on a plane shows flu symptoms, all the other passengers could be quarantined," said Sisdivachr, adding that if the situation were not resolved soon, the impact on tourism could still be felt a year from now.
The number of Western tourists - mainly from the UK, Germany, Scandinavia, the US and Canada, but also from Eastern Europe - is also expected to drop in the coming months, said Anake.
Both Anake and Sisdivachr said the only thing that could put an end to the fear factor was the World Health Organisation coming up with an effective vaccine and medication to treat this flu strain.
The Associa-tion of Thai Travel Agents recently said the number of international arrivals had drop-ped by 50 per cent year on year in the first four months, due to negative factors like the Bangkok airport closures late in 2008 and the Songkran riots.
The flu outbreak has sparked new fears of global travel. Thailand has seen a 10-per-cent drop in flight frequency this year, due to the flu, the economic crisis and last year's airport closures, said Somchai Thean-anant, president of Aeronautical Radio of Thailand, which provides aviation communications at airports.
The company's revenue has fallen by Bt500 million a month, and its expected full-year income could well be below expenses for the first time. Somchai said if revenue were to match expenses, flight frequency must rise 5 per cent from last year's level.
In a bid to stimulate tourism, the Thai Travel Agents Associa-tion, Amadeus and Krungthai Card will jointly host a travel fair called "Asean+3" in Bangkok from May 28-31.