Reason for hope in Bangkok

Bangkok city officials say they are humbled and inspired after receiving Travel + Leisure magazine’s “Top City” award, despite recent street riots that sent tourists packing.

Thai students tour Marble temple in Bangkok

Thai students tour Marble temple in Bangkok

BANGKOK, Thailand — Bangkok city officials say they are humbled and inspired after receiving Travel + Leisure magazine’s “Top City” award, despite recent street riots that sent tourists packing.

Bangkok Gov. Sukhumbhand Paribatra told a news conference that the award offers a morale boost to the battered capital and called on political protesters to behave themselves. The recent political upheaval prompted dozens of international travel advisories and emptied hotels.

“What we have in our hands is very precious,” said Sukhumbhand. “We must prevent troubles and any more losses from happening in our beloved city. We should not damage it any further.”

A grenade explosion Sunday in a central Bangkok shopping area killed one person and wounded 10. Authorities have declined to speculate if it was politically related.

The No. 1 ranking in the magazine’s top 10 cities list appears in the August edition of Travel + Leisure, which was based on a poll of readers who cast votes from December to March to rate their favourite cities, islands, hotels, airlines and other categories. Nearly 16,000 readers participated. The polling stopped a few days before civil disorder erupted in Bangkok that lasted 10 weeks and ended May 19 with nearly 90 dead and 1,400 hurt.

During the chaos, several top hotels and upscale department stores closed because they were surrounded by thousands of anti-government protesters. Dozens of buildings were damaged or burned as the protests were broken up in a military crackdown.

Nationwide hotel occupancy in May — the end of tourism’s high season — was 32 per cent, down 10 per cent from the same period last year, said Prakit Chinamornpong, president of Thai Hotels Association.

The Bangkok governor visited New York last week to pick up the award from the magazine’s publishers and said he met with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and asked for advice about New York’s post 9-11 recovery.

“‘Bad things happened, but we must move forward. We can’t stop. We must keep up the morale.’ That’s what Mayor Bloomberg told me,” he said.

New York City ranked 10th among favourite cities in the poll. Second was the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, followed by Florence, Italy; San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; and Rome. In the top 10 list of U.S. and Canadian cities, Vancouver was sixth, Quebec City was eighth and Victoria was ninth. Bangkok also was the top city in 2008.

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