Unrest fears prompt cancellation of Thai tours

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Many tourism agencies in Vietnam have canceled tours to Thailand due to the unstable political situation and threat of mass demonstrations against the government.

Hanoi-based Vietravel that organizes three to four tours to Thailand a week has announced cancellation of all tours to Thailand from March 14-20. People who booked for the tours before March 10 will be fully refunded and receive a US$5 discount for the next one.

Though the agency has advised people to choose Malaysia or Singapore instead, it estimated at least 350 customers would just take their money back.

"Though the Tourism Authority of Thailand said they will protect tourists, we have to halt the tours to ensure absolute safety of our customers," a Viettravel representative was quoted by local newswire Vnexpress as saying Tuesday.

Thailand's anti-government red-shirted protesters under the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) have been demonstrating on the streets at several Bangkok locations. With the memory of riots in Bangkok and Pattaya last April, many people are fearful of a violent outcome if the military is called in to suppress the protesters.

"We temporary stopped offering tours to Thailand from Monday, as the situation has become complicated," said Lai Huu Phuong, director of Ben Thanh Tourist Agency based in Ho Chi Minh City.

The cancelation will lose the agency around 200 customers every two weeks, Phuong said.

Tran Vinh Loc, director of the city-based Lac Hong Vien Du said "We dare not take the risk."

Loc said his company last year had to take the tourists home by bus as the demonstrators blocked airports.

"Tours to Thailand are cheap. So we would suffer big losses if we have to deal with extra situations," he said.

Fiditour, a leading tour provider in Vietnam, meanwhile has changed its tours to include other provinces than Bangkok that are considered safer, said Nguyen Thi Tuyet Mai, its PR manager.

The agency's latest Thai tour finished Monday and all customers returned home safely.

"As the marching in Thailand has grown more severe, we just canceled another tour with nearly 100 customers," Mai said. "Many of the customers wanted to go anyway but we are forced to hold it."

Saigontourist leaves it to the customers to decide to go or not. The agency still provides updates on the security conditions in Thailand.

"In case the tour consists of a large amount of customers, we will recommend another destination for them to decide," said the PR manager Doan Thanh Tra.

The office of Thailand Authority of Tourism (TAT) in HCMC on Wednesday announced that demonstrations in Bangkok would not cause big trouble and the city is still safe for visitors.

Yet the note advised people to stay away from places where a lot of people have gathered.

An official from the TAT office in HCMC earlier told the newswire Vnexpress that even the protestors will be friendly to tourists as foreigners are not their target.

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