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Chinese tourists being dissuaded from visiting grieving Thailand

No alcohol, no laughing, no colourful clothing for at least a month – that’s the message tourists from the mainland and elsewhere are hearing from tour operators as Thailand begins an extended period of mourning after the death of its beloved monarch.

Asia’s airlines, tour agents and cruise operators are on the alert for a tourism slowdown in Thailand, where partying and drinking alcohol in public have been banned following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on Thursday that the nation would hold a year-long period of mourning and that all entertainment functions must be “toned down” for a month.

Chinese travel agencies, in fact, are dissuading tourists from visiting the country for at least the next four weeks. While China’s tourism authority has not issued any ban or warning about the favourite destination of Chinese holidaymakers, travel agencies are refunding bookings and imploring those who intend to go through with their holiday plans to behave properly out of respect for Thai people’s feelings.

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Liu Jun, an employee at a state-owned travel agency in Ganzhou, Jiangxi province, said his agency would suspend tour groups to Thailand for a month because many famous attractions, including the Grand Palace in Bangkok and popular entertainment venues, would be closed.

“For those who have already paid, we are arranging refunds,” said Liu. “There’s no point going to Bangkok now if you are looking for fun.”

Ctrip, China’s main online travel agency, is still offering packages to Thailand,with special reminders that Chinese tourists should be on the best behaviour and refrain from drinking alcohol, wearing colourful outfits or even publicly discussing king’s death to “avoid any unnecessary trouble”.

“We recommend that tourists wear black or white,” the agency said in a statement.

Lvmama.com, another Chinese online travel agency, offered similar reminders to tourists “not to laugh loudly in public”.

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China’s embassy in Thailand said in a notice on its website that tourists should follow traditional customs in public places during this time.

Thailand is one of the most popular tourist destinations for Chinese holidaymakers given the variety of attractions and relatively affordable prices. In the first week of October, the national holiday in China, more than quarter a million of Chinese visited the country.

But with all entertainment activities suspended, many Chinese tourists were set to reschedule their plans. A tourist from Chengdu said at a tourist chat room that she would cancel her trip to Koh Samui on October 19 if she could get a refund.

Hana Tour Service, South Korea’s biggest tour operator, expected demand to be hurt during the mourning period, a spokesperson said. Korean Air, Asiana Airlines and Qantas-owned Jetstar said they were monitoring the situation.

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Tourism accounts for about 10 per cent of Thailand’s gross domestic product.

“The tourism business will be interrupted by the king’s death,” said Wang Dehua, a professor of international relations at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies. “That’s the immediate economic impact.”

Cruise lines Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises and Costa Cruises are among those due to visit Phuket this month.

A spokeswoman for Costa Cruises in Hong Kong said the company was assessing whether to change to its itinerary.

Royal Caribbean said it had not seen any impact on bookings and had no plan to change itineraries. A Sydney-based spokeswoman for Princess Cruises said the company was checking for any impact on services from the king’s death.

Lan Kwai Fong Group chairman Allan Zeman, who runs two resorts in Phuket, told the Post that he did not think Thailand’s mourning period would affect the country’s tourism industry, as the “Land of Smiles” would continue to be a favourite destination for Hongkongers.

“Thailand remains a beautiful country, with its beaches and culture … There’s a lot to do apart from the entertainment,” he said.

Steve Huen Kwok-chuen, executive director of Hong Kong’s EGL Tours, said the impact of the Thai King’s death was minimal at the moment and people were still joining their tours after the news.

But he said some tour groups’ itineraries had changed as some attractions in the country were closed temporarily. Huen added that EGL’s customers were not allowed to withdraw from a package tour because of the change.

Additional reporting by Zhuang Pinghui, Eddie Lee and Bloomberg