Wednesday 28 September 2016

The world's a dangerous place - but that should not stop us travelling

Eoghan Corry

Published 22/08/2015 | 02:30

A relative of one of the bomb victims prays in Bangkok
A relative of one of the bomb victims prays in Bangkok

Asia was home to the tourists who died and China home to most of those who were injured by the bomb which exploded at the Erawan temple in Bangkok this week.

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The casualty list tells its own story about how travel patterns to the Thai capital have changed.

Five years ago, almost every one of the 50,000 Irish who go to Thailand each year would have begun and ended their journey in Bangkok, usually with a stopover which could have included a stay in one of the 70 hotels in the city's busy Pathum Wan commercial district, where the bombing took place.

While Irish people have continued to come to Thailand in increasing numbers, they have been steering shy of the capital.

Bangkok is crowded and noisy and has a long-standing reputation for traffic chaos and a more recent one for political volatility, related to the standoff with supporters of the deposed populist Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his party on one side and a coup-craving military on the other,

A shopping centre close to where the bombing took place was burned during a stand-off between the two sides during the battle for Bangkok in 2010.

This is the beating heart of the city, the terminus for the main railway station, the skyrail to the airport, the express boats that run along the Khlong Saen Saeb canal, the high end Central Chidlom shopping centre and the vehicles jammed around the Ratchaprasong intersection of Ratchadamri Road.

Although violent protests from opposing political groups have been a feature of Bangkok life since 2006 and foreigners are rarely caught in the bloodshed, the important US and EU markets began to avoid the area.

Chinese and other Asian tourists became more important to the district's economy as Western tourists stayed away.

Thailand's troubles are alien to the tourist honeypots where Irish people go to stay and play, place names as familiar to today's generation as Tramore and Ballybunion were to the last.

Many Irish people are flying directly to Phuket with Emirates and Etihad, the airlines of choice for Irish people travelling to Asia.

Chiang Mai airport in the north and Ko Samui in the south east are courting both airlines for similar one-stop services from Europe.

It is unlikely that the Bangkok bombing will have any impact on holiday plans. The Irish are more durable and visitor numbers, typically, are unaffected by political developments.

One tour operator recalls a rush of enquiries followed the Bali bombing in 2002 by Irish people looking for bargains.

This is in contrast to what happened in Tunisia after the deaths of Lorna Carty from Robinstown, Co Meath, and husband and wife Martina and Laurence Hayes, from Westlodge, Athlone.

The north African destination shut down and is now virtually inaccessible from Ireland with the cancellation of direct air services.

Sunway ended its weekly charter, offering its booked customers alternatives, and Just Sunshine pulled out of Ireland altogether.

We cannot be sure that tourism was the target of Monday's bombing, as is claimed by the military junta who seized power last year. The shrine is close to the police headquarters and police hospital.

Nor is it clear who planted the three devices. The bombing is highly likely to go unclaimed, as did the potentially more damaging Ko Samui bombing in April, which had no fatalities and consequently no effect on inbound tourism.

The BKK, the BRN, the RKK and the four other groups involved in an insurgency that has killed 6,000 over 50 years have no history of operating outside the three Malay-speaking provinces in southern Thailand which are in partial revolt.

The job of figuring out who the militants are and whether they will they strike again is now occupying the brass hats in Bangkok.

In the meantime, after a short hiatus, bookings are unlikely to be affected to Thailand, which will once again in 2015 be Ireland's second-favourite long-haul destination after Australia, ahead of South Africa and Dubai.

The tourist industry is right to be optimistic. Thailand bookings were unaffected by the 2010 political protests and subsequent military crackdown.

The three deaths in Tunisia were our first resident victims of insurgency since the Kusadasi bombing in 2005, which killed post-Leaving Certificate holiday maker Tara Whelan from Kilmeaden, Co Waterford, something which had no impact on holiday bookings to Turkey.

Irish people will continue to travel and be killed by the more dangerous activities abroad, the road accidents, drownings, balcony falls and, most fatal of all, the heart conditions that Irish people pack with them when they travel.

These combined will continue to cause 200 deaths a year among Irish people abroad, as opposed to the three who died at the hands of more high-profile political assailants.

The world out there can be dangerous,

But not dangerous enough to prevent us travelling to Thailand.

Irish Independent

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