(Bloomberg) -- Thailand will take steps to enhance the safety of foreign tourists, official said on Wednesday, a day after a teenager shot dead two people, including a Chinese visitor, inside a popular shopping mall in downtown Bangkok.
Tourism Minister Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol stressed the shooting at Siam Paragon mall in the capital city was “an isolated incident.” However, law enforcement agencies will tighten weapons screening at shopping malls and other tourist spots, she said.
The Chinese national, a 34-year-old woman, and a Myanmar citizen working at the mall, were shot dead by the 14-year old boy. The shooter, who was nabbed by the police, was previously treated for mental illness and had skipped taking medication, according to police chief Torsak Sukvimol. Five people were injured, including another Chinese citizen.
Read More: Two Dead as Teenage Shooter Attacks Bangkok Shopping Mall
The shooting casts a shadow on Thailand’s expectations for a surge in foreign tourist arrivals under a visa-free program for visitors from China and Kazakhstan. The Southeast Asian nation, popular for its beaches, Buddhist temples and national parks, is forecast to receive up to 30 million holidaymakers this year, more than double the tally in 2022.
Thailand is counting on tourists to power an economic recovery this year as it grapples with headwinds from a decline in exports and higher interest rates. Chinese tourists were the largest group of visitors to the country before the pandemic, accounting for about 28% of the record 40 million foreign arrivals in 2019.
The fallout from the shooting on tourism needs to be watched, Bank of Thailand Governor Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput said Wednesday, adding the industry had recovered to 60-70% of its pre-Covid levels.
“The shooting will hurt confidence of tourists and sentiment,” said Burin Adulwattana, chief economist at Bangkok-based Kasikorn Research Center. It also “increases downside risk to Thailand’s fragile economic recovery. The government will need to try its best to restore confidence.”
Shares of hotel, shopping mall operators and airlines fell in Bangkok trading, dragging the SET Tourism & Leisure Index to a one-year low. Central Plaza Hotel Pcl dropped as much as 8.5%, leading decline among the hotels, while mall operator Central Pattana Pcl fell as much as 2.8%. Asia Aviation Pcl lost as much as 4.5% and Airports of Thailand Pcl slid as much as 3.6%.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand and other agencies will also step up their communications strategy to ease concerns among travelers and improve Thailand’s image as a safe tourism destination, officials said at a briefing on Wednesday.
While mass shootings are not very common in Thailand, a former cop used an automatic weapon to fire at a daycare center in northeastern Thailand last year, killing 36 people, mostly preschoolers. Since then, the government has ordered a crackdown on unlicensed gun owners and compulsory registration of all firearms.
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