Political crisis driving medical tourists away from Thailand

With many of the 50 countries that had already advised citizens to think twice before traveling to Thailand, upgrading advice to recommend that they either do not travel there at all or not to travel anywhere in or near the capital of Bangkok, medical tourism in Thailand is suffering as people cancel travel plans.

Kuwait has recommended its citizens in Thailand to return home, and the UAE advised all to delay their planned travel to Thailand, while Oman has advised all to avoid Bangkok. This could affect Thailand’s medical tourism industry, as it is the period when people from the Middle East seek annual checkups at Thai hospitals.

The Thai Government has imposed a 60-day state of emergency, which gives security forces the power to impose curfews, detain suspects without charge, censor media, ban political gatherings of more than five people and declare areas off-limits.

The political situation in Thailand is unpredictable and sometimes volatile. Over recent years there have been instances of civil and political unrest resulting in large demonstrations and in some cases violence.

The state of emergency applies to Bangkok and the neighbouring provinces of Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani and Samut Prakarn, and includes the Suvarnabhumi International Airport, one of the busiest in Asia.

The Thai government has so far imposed no travel restrictions but this may change.

Political demonstrations continue in and around Bangkok and elsewhere in Thailand. Some of these have been violent, including the use of firearms, and there have been casualties and deaths. The situation is unpredictable and further protests are expected.

800,000 Brits travel to Thailand every year and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against all but essential travel to Bangkok and neighboring areas and for most of the rest of the country- they advise checking with them before travelling.

Malaysia, the Philippines, China and Australia have advised their citizens to avoid travelling to Bangkok and its surrounding areas and to monitor the situation closely.

In countries that normally send high numbers of people to Thailand, airlines have cancelled flights, tour operators report bookings have fallen dramatically, and some insurers refuse to offer cover.

Everybody is hoping that after elections in February, the situation will return to normal. Meanwhile the Tourism Authority of Thailand is trying hard to play down the crisis and says tourists have not been targeted in the ongoing demonstrations and that it is business as usual in most parts of Bangkok.

On advice to customers from the medical tourism industry, there is a deafening silence.