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Thai Business Owners Worry Bombing Could Drive Away Tourists


Police in Thailand today released a sketch of a man they believe to be responsible for Monday's deadly bombing in the capital, Bangkok. The explosion at a religious shrine left 20 people dead, including several foreigners and more than a hundred injured. Tourism makes up about 10 percent of Thailand's economy, and the prime minister there says the attack was aimed at destroying it. From Bangkok, Michael Sullivan reports.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: The Erawan Shrine was open to the public today less than two days after the attack, the government eager to show its people and the world that things are getting back to normal.


SULLIVAN: The street vendors were back too, selling garlands and incense for those who came to pray at the Hindu shrine that's popular with foreign tourists and Thais too. One of those Thais, Maneerat Laowalet, lives just outside the capital and says she comes here once a month when in the city on business to pray for good luck and good health. She hopes the bomber or bombers have neither.


SULLIVAN: She says "the people who did this will pay. They'll get what they deserve," she says, "and it won't be good." And she says she's confident the military-led government will find those responsible for Monday's attack. Ratiya Thongtamlung is hoping that's soon. Ratiya owns a travel agency called Boarding Pass, and she hopes this passes too because in the last 15 months since the military took power, she says, business has never been better. And she gives all the credit to General-turned-Prime-Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.

RATIYA THONGTAMLUNG: After Prayuth control everything for Thailand, after that, my business going up, up, up. I have many booking April, May, June, July. My business going up on top. I never get like this before.

SULLIVAN: She says her business has doubled since the army seized power and put an end to a seemingly endless cycle of political instability, street protests that kept tourists away from Thailand's temples and beaches. She expected cancellations after Monday's event but is surprised, encouraged there haven't been more, especially after travel alerts issued by the U.S., the U.K. and other governments. She's not alone. Yuthasil Silapasorn directs operations for iCheck Inn, which manages 15 hotels in Bangkok that cater to a largely Western clientele.

YUTHASIL SILAPASORN: People is not to panicked. Just cancel three booking.

SULLIVAN: Just three canceled bookings - he's seen worse after political protests that sometimes turned violent in the past and is cautiously optimistic so far.

SILAPASORN: Let's see what happen within this week because today's Wednesday, right? Should be within Friday that we will know exactly what happened in the next few months based on the situation.

SULLIVAN: The situation didn't keep Australian tourist Wendy Christensen from coming yesterday, even though she heard about the attack before she got on the plane.

WENDY CHRISTENSEN: I think it makes you more aware, and you're watching in case somebody leaves a bag. If you're sitting in a restaurant, somebody might leave a bag, and you're sort of, like, watching for that. You would sort of, like, think of that, but it's been fine.

SULLIVAN: Her friend Joan Ash pretty much agrees.

JOAN ASH: I was a bit worried - a little bit but not for long. We drove through it today in a taxi. Life goes on.

SULLIVAN: The government is hoping that attitude prevails amid foreign tourists and Thais in the coming days and weeks. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Bangkok. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.