A city worker fumigates the area to control the spread of mosquitoes as a Buddhist monk looks on at a temple in Bangkok, Thailand, September 14, 2016. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom
city worker fumigates the area to control the spread of
mosquitoes as a Buddhist monk looks on at a temple in


By Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Panarat Thepgumpanat

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Confirmation that the Zika virus had caused
microcephaly in Thailand is not likely to scare off large numbers
of Chinese tourists due to jet in for holidays in the next week,
tourists and industry operators said.

Thailand reported on Friday the first confirmed cases in
Southeast Asia of microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small
head size, linked to the Zika virus, a day after U.S. officials
recommended that pregnant women postpone travel to 11 countries
in the region, including Thailand, because of Zika.

China’s “Golden Week” break, which starts on Saturday, sees an
exodus to overseas holiday spots with tropical Thailand a
favorite for Chinese visitors, who are already the most numerous
in the country.

In Bangkok’s bustling Chinatown, tourists said they were scared
about Zika but not deterred.

Tina Lan, 30, from Shanghai, said she had booked her Golden Week
flights to Thailand six months ago.

“I’m slightly scared because Zika is transmitted by mosquitoes
and there are lots of them here,” Lan told Reuters, but she added
she will continue her tour in Thailand, which she has visited

Industry officials also said news of Zika was expected to have no
impact on Chinese arrivals, at least in the short term.


Thailand expects 220,000 Chinese visitors during the break, up
about 30 percent from last year, Tourism Authority of Thailand
Governor Yuthasak Supasorn told Reuters, and Zika fears were not
expected to spoil the holiday mood.

“We have confidence in Thailand’s public health system. The
number of Chinese tourists coming to Thailand should be on
target,” Yuthasak said.

Roong Mallikamas, head of the macroeconomics and monetary policy
department at the Bank of Thailand, said Zika would not have a
big impact on tourism because it was not as serious as other
diseases previously seen in the region, such as a deadly 2003
outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Zika has spread extensively in Latin American and the Caribbean
over the past year or so, and more recently it has been cropping
up in Southeast Asia.

Thailand has confirmed 349 Zika cases since January, including 33
pregnant women.

Budget-friendly Thailand has seen a steady increase in Chinese
tourists over recent years. A hit 2012 Chinese comedy film, “Lost
in Thailand”, boosted the image of a tourist paradise of Buddhist
temples and beaches.

Thailand expects a record 33 million visitors this year, driven
mostly by an increase in Chinese numbers.

The tourism industry, which accounts for about 10 percent of
gross domestic product, has weathered more than a decade of
unrest including military coups in 2006 and 2014 and a wave of
deadly bombings in August that killed four Thai tourists and
injured dozens, including foreigners.

A bomb last year at a Bangkok shrine popular with Asian visitors
killed 20 people, seven of them from China, but failed to put a
dent in arrivals.

Supawan Tanomkieatipume, president of the Thai Hotels
Association, said she had not heard of any hotel cancellations
since the confirmation of Zika-linked microcephaly.

“These are very rare cases and the virus isn’t a concern for
them,” Supawan told Reuters.

Charoen Wangananont, president of the Association of Thai Travel
Agents echoed that optimism.

“I haven’t found any Chinese tourists, even ones that are
pregnant, voicing this concern,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Kitiphong Thaicharoen and Pairat
Temphairojana; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Robert
Birsel and Richard Borsuk)

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