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Tourists shrug off Bangkok bomb blasts
Posted: 02 January 2007 1103 hrs

BANGKOK: Bomb blasts which hit Bangkok on New Year's Eve injuring nine foreigners appear not to have deterred people from visiting Thailand, with tourists seemingly unconcerned about the threat of more attacks.

Eight bombs exploded across the Thai capital on Sunday as revellers prepared to bring in 2007, with two blasts just before midnight targeting a downtown area dotted with upmarket hotels and malls.

Three people were killed and at least 30 injured, including tourists from Serbia, Hungary and Britain, police said.

Authorities have warned of possible further attacks, but early reports indicate that holidaymakers are neither fleeing the kingdom nor cancelling vacation plans, tourism officials said.

The response is good news for authorities in Thailand, which relies heavily on the 13-billion-dollar tourism industry, which generates six percent of the country's gross domestic product.

"I don't feel really scared because I think it was normal in the world now that there are many attacks in many countries," said one Australian tourist as she browsed a T-shirt stall on backpacker haunt Khao San Road.

Pacific Asia Travel Association spokesman John Koldowski said it was still compiling data, but had not yet received reports of any cancellations.

He said that since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, people had become used to terror alerts and bomb scares.

"The reality is that we've experienced so much in the last five years, that we've become inured to these sorts of things," he said.

The wave of bombings cut short New Year celebrations in Bangkok and the northern tourist city Chiang Mai, but Tourism Authority of Thailand spokesman Chattan Kunkara Ayudhya said southern beach resorts were not affected.

"The New Year festivals in the resort town of Pattaya and the Andaman coast island of Phuket were held as normal, with no reports of violence," he told AFP.

New Year comes at the height of Thailand's tourist season, and as news of the attacks spread, luxury hotels stepped up security, checking cars for bombs.

Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States issued travel advisories to their citizens in Bangkok to stay at home, amid warnings that more attacks were possible in coming days.

But by Monday afternoon, life was getting back to normal. Security at hotels was lowered, and guests crowded the lobbies and restaurants of the Intercontinental and the Grand Hyatt Erawan, two of Bangkok's plushest hotels.

Across town on Khao San Road, less well-heeled holidaymakers milled around, shopping at stalls and drinking in crowded backpacker haunts.

"I am not afraid of the bombs," said American Kathryn Vigna, 30. "If I am afraid, they will get what they want which is to scare people," she said.

She said she was confident that the Thai authorities had the situation under control. "I will come back if I have a chance," she added.

Matthew Daniels, also from the United States, was at a restaurant near Central World Plaza when the last bomb of the night exploded in a telephone box nearby.

"I was very scared," he told AFP. "I was in the restaurant with other tourist friends and the receptionist told us to leave because there is a bomb. No one told us what to do next."

He said he was disappointed that Thai authorities had not given clearer evacuation orders after the first explosions, but said he had not been put off from travelling in the kingdom.

Tourism numbers in Thailand took a hammering after the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami killed 5,400 – almost half of whom were foreigners – in December 2004.

They were finally returning to pre-tsunami levels in 2006 when a military coup ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra on September 19.

But the sight of tanks on the streets had only a short-term effect on arrivals, which jumped 18 percent in 2006 to a record high of 13.6 million, according to TAT.

The industry thinks the bombs will also have a minimal impact.

Police Sergeant Chidchai Sriplien, who oversees security on Khao San Road, said it was too early to say for sure if numbers had dropped.

"But as I see it, the number of foreign tourists is the same as before the bomb blasts," he said.

And the manager of a backpacker hotel on Khao San Road said no tourists had checked out or cancelled their reservations.

"Our inn is still fully booked," he told AFP. - AFP/so