Hyderabadis are sceptical to visit Thailand this summer as Bangkok finds itself in the grip of red shirt protestors. Sangeetha Devi Dundoo reports

Images like this, showing a sea of red shirt protestors on the streets of Bangkok, have dented brand Thailand. The country has been one of the hottest vacation destinations for Hyderabadis in the last few years. Bookings for Bangkok, Pattaya, Phukhet and Koh Samui have consistently scored over the rest of South East Asia.

The story this year is different. Though the Indian government has not yet issued a travel advisory warning Indian tourists from visiting Thailand, 40 other nations have done so. According to reports, the Federation of Thai Industries feels the political conflict could cost the tourism industry more than $ 1 billion. The protests that began in one area have intensified over the last few days causing several shopping centres to down their shutters.

Protestors want to see the return of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted after a coup in 2006. Their demands include resignation of the current PM Abhisit Vejjajiva and fresh elections.

Parvathy Reddy, who travels frequently to Bangkok frequently, says, “Our group of 10-15 friends had plans of visiting Bangkok in March for a world furniture expo. As news of protests trickled in, many backed out. Only five of us went ahead with our plans. It was not a great experience, since the Thais were over cautious about moving freely within Bangkok. I felt there was nothing to worry about and red shirt protests affected only one area in the city, but many are wary of travelling.”

But this was in March and as protests intensified, travel agents in Hyderabad are seeing very few bookings for Thailand. “The country was always a hot selling destination for winter and summer vacations. We are seeing a drastic drop in bookings this year.

Even those who were planning to take connecting flights from Bangkok have second thoughts,” says Imtiaz Qureshi, chairperson, AP chapter of Travel Agents Association of India.

Concurs Shalini Mahesh of Travel Channel, “There are hardly any requests for bookings to and via Bangkok. Tourists who plan to travel to Australia are also opting for flights via Singapore or Malaysia.”

How bad is it really?

In a circular sent to travel agencies, Thailand's tourism board tries to clear the air:

l The emergency imposed does not include Pattaya, Hua Hin, Phuket, Koh Samui and Chiang Mai.

l Measures taken under emergency regulations do not affect the normal way of life of Thais and tourists. All sightseeing tours in Bangkok are running as usual without disturbance from the red shirts protesters.

l The Thai government has extended a generous insurance policy that guarantees a considerable premium to travellers who can prove their arrangements were disrupted by political unrest.

l Thailand is celebrating 50 years of tourism. Other than a few roads and one shopping centre being closed, the rest of the city is operating as normal.