Getting into a cab at the Mo Chit Skytrain station, it’s rare to
find a Bangkok taxi driver ebullient, especially at 11 p.m. But my
driver was singing, almost dancing in his seat, shouting “Thaksin
bye-bye, Thaksin bye-bye.”
The streets outside looked positively normal, as crowded with
late-night traffic as the elevated railway had been crowded with
bleary office workers and groggy students dozing their way home.
Thailand’s embattled Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, really was
“bye-bye,” in New York City for a United Nations meeting.
The hotel lobby was crowded with the usual throng of midnight
arrivals, standing jet-lagged and patient. Nothing was amiss until
I turned on the television in my room.
Local channels had nothing but ancient film and video clips of
Thailand’s revered monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. No news, no
game shows dubbed into Thai. No CNN or BBC, either. That’s when I
knew something was wrong. Google News told me that Thailand had
just had a military coup.
The Associated Press and Reuters had little more than the bare
facts: Army tanks had rolled early that evening, taking up
positions at major government buildings and intersections. Thaksin
was ousted in a coup okayed by the King himself, the ultimate
arbiter of Thai politics.
As I read online, I kept channel surfing. Bloomberg TV was still
broadcasting from Singapore with a steady stream of telephone
interviews from Bangkok and occasional video phone feeds.
What they showed was stunning. Coup d’etat conjures up visions
of grim-faced soldiers, clouds of tear gas, bodies in the street.
But I was seeing swarms of people snapping photos of tanks, posing
children with soldiers and grinning like it was the best day of
For many, it was. A snap poll taken the next morning showed that
86 percent of Thais outside Bangkok, where Thaksin had enjoyed
almost universal support, thought the coup was a good idea. In
Bangkok, pro-coup sentiment was close to 100 percent.
The impact on tourism? Negligible.
“Everyone commuted to work today and we are operating tours as
we generally do,” e-mailed Lee Marona, general manager USA for
Exotissimo, who was in Thailand following a fam trip.
The 420-room, five-star Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit had 100
percent occupancy the night of the coup and lost about 20 rooms to
early departures. Perhaps 100 room nights were cancelled, then
rebooked. Two nights later, the hotel was back to 100 percent.
And leaving Thailand? Never easier.
I showed up three hours early for my Cathay Pacific flight to
San Francisco the next morning; check-in took less than 60 seconds.
The only sign of the coup was newspaper photos filled with
happy-looking Thais, and a bedraggled truckload of unarmed solders
in front of the airport, huddled beneath a highway overpass to
escape a steady rain.
By Fred Gebhart
Congress Passes Bill Delaying Passport Rule for Land, Sea
On Sept. 29, Congress approved an amendment that would delay
implementation of new passport requirements included in the Western
Hemisphere Travel Initiative, a law requiring U.S. travelers to
have passports in order to re-enter the U.S from abroad.
The last-minute revision delays implementation until June 1,
2009, the requirement for passports for land crossings at the
Canadian and Mexican borders and for cruise passengers returning to
the U.S. from Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada or Bermuda through the
same date. All U.S. citizens, however, will need passports for
travel by air starting Jan. 8, 2007, as previously proposed.
According to senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ted Stevens
(R-Alaska), the co-sponsors of the amendment, the legislation will
allow more time to perfect a system that will also make PASS cards
an available alternative to passports for land crossings at the
Canadian and Mexican borders. President Bush is expected to sign
the bill into law.
Under the amendment, Congress requires the DHS and the State
Department to first complete seven benchmarks in order to implement
the passport requirement, as well as develop the proposed PASS
The amendment represents a significant victory for the travel
industry, which lobbied heavily for a delay in the implementation
of the passport rule.
“[The government] needed more time to implement this,” said Rick
Webster, vice president, government affairs for the Travel Industry
Webster said that while the measure delays implementation of the
passport rule until June 1, 2009, the government could move sooner
if they’re ready.
The Caribbean Tourism Organization, the Caribbean Hotel
Association, along with local hotel associations in the region as
well as tourism ministers and commissioners of foreign affairs had
lobbied strenuously for a deadline extension for passengers
returning to the U.S. by both air and sea. The International
Council of Cruise Lines also praised Washington’s decision.
While both cruise passengers and travelers entering Canada and
Mexico by land would be able to use the proposed PASS card, the
industry still recommends that travelers apply for passports.
ASTA’s New Board of Directors
The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) recently announced
that its Chapter Presidents Council (CPC) elected Nina Meyer, CTC,
South Florida chapter president; Chris Russo, Rocky Mountain
chapter president; and Carol Wagner, CTC, Michigan chapter
president as the three chapter president representatives to the
2006-2007 ASTA Board of Directors.
The election was held during ASTA’s meeting held in conjunction
with THETRADESHOW in Orlando, Fla. Russo also was elected as Chair
of the CPC for 2006-2007. They join the nine directors elected in
July by the ASTA voting membership.
“ASTA’s Chapter President representatives are an essential part
of our Board. They bring with them valuable industry experience and
the collective viewpoint of our member agents,” said Cheryl Hudak,
CTC, ASTA president and CEO. “I am excited to work with these fine
professionals and look forward to a productive and innovative
The Buzz online
Fare Buzz, a leading provider of consolidated airfares available
exclusively to travel agents and corporate travel planners, is
celebrating the one-year anniversary of its online booking engine,
Farebuzz.com. Agents who book on the Web site through October have
a chance to win free coach tickets for domestic or international
travel. Restrictions and some blackout dates apply.
Launched August 2005, Farebuzz.com is a reservation system that
provides members with free, instant access to the company’s array
of consolidated airfares, and allows agents to set their commission
rates and retain 100 percent of their markups.
By Kim Costa