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Tourists recommended not to travel to Thailand

Singapore and South Korea advised their citizens Tuesday against traveling to Thailand, and Washington warned of potential of violence, raising concerns that the ongoing political crisis could damage the country's crucial tourist economy.

The advisories follow Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's decision to impose a state of emergency overnight after clashes between pro- and anti-government protesters left one person dead and dozens injured.

The tourism industry already suffered a blow over the weekend after protesters forced the closure of three airports in Phuket, Krabi and Hat Yai. Unions sympathetic to demonstrators also shut down rail service across the country.

The airport in Hat Yai, in the country's south, reopened on Saturday only to close again Tuesday after anti-government demonstrators blocked the entrance. Protesters have also threatened action at the country's main international airport Suvarnabhumi.

"These protests are making Thailand look like unfriendly and a rather volatile place to put your money," said Kobsidthi Silpachai, the head of capital markets research Kasikorn Bank.

"People who are probably potential tourists will say 'Hey, what is going on? There is a state of emergency issued. Maybe it's not the best place to go,"' Kobshidthi said. "It will have a big impact."

Singapore and South Korea issued advisories urging their citizens to postpone nonessential travel to the country. Australia and New Zealand, on the other hand, advised their citizens to "exercise a high degree of caution" if traveling to the country.

Canadian and American authorities advised citizens to avoid demonstrations in Bangkok.

"We wish to remind American citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence," the U.S. Embassy warned its citizens. "American citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations."

Tourism in Thailand brought in about US$27 billion in revenue last year or about 6.5 percent of Thailand's GDP - so a blow to the reputation of the country that promotes itself as the "Land of Smiles" could have a ripple effect through the rest of the economy.

On Tuesday, Samak declared a state of emergency, which only added to the uncertainty that has dogged the economy for much of the year.

Thailand's economy _ which is heavily dependent on tourist dollars and foreign investment - has struggled to regain its footing since a September 2006 coup ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Investors had cheered the return of democracy last year, when elections ushered in Samak's government. But within months, the same protesters who helped force Thaksin from office returned to the streets to demonstrate against Samak, whom they accuse of being a proxy for the former prime minister.

Protesters stepped up their demonstrations a week ago when they stormed the prime minister's office and took it over. They have occupied it ever since, contending they will remain until Samak resigns - something he has repeatedly refused to do.

Analysts warned things are likely to get worse with prospective investors and tourists being scared off by the most recent instability. The Thai stock market is down 25 percent since the protests began in May while the dollar has gained 6 percent against the Thai baht.

On Tuesday, the stock market was down 15.7 points or about 2.3 percent while the baht has weakened slightly.

Andrew Walker, a fellow at Australian National University who has been following the crisis, said newspapers in his country have been filled with horror stories of tourists whose trips were ruined after protesters forced the closure of three airports in Thailand over the weekend. Strikes also disrupted nationwide rail service.

"Having airports in Phuket and Krabi disrupted and reports in the papers of tourists being confronted by protesters is not good for Thailand's image as a tourist-friendly destination," Walker said.

The Pacific Asia Travel Association said it has heard of several conferences being canceled in Thailand because of the troubles and business travelers canceling hotel bookings. Britain's Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, also postponed his six-day trade visit to Thailand, according to The Bangkok Post.

Jaturont Pakdeepanich, of the country's Tourism Development office, admitted he was concerned with Samak's decision to issue the emergency.

"The state of emergency must have an impact on tourism," Jaturont said. "For sure, if I was a foreign tourist, I wouldn't come to Thailand."

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