Despite protesters leaving Bangkok's airports, tourism officials fear the crisis may have a follow-on effect on the local industry with lower arrivals in Thailand
Passengers descend from a Thai Airways Boeing 747 at Suvarnabhumi International Airport after the first flight from Phuket in Bangkok.
CAMBODIAN officials said Wednesday they expect tourist arrival numbers from Thailand to begin to recover as early as next week from a sharp downturn sparked by political unrest in Bangkok.
But with fewer foreigners likely to visit Thailand following the turmoil, many worry that the crisis has inflicted long-lasting damage on the tourism industry here.
About one-third of Cambodia's tourists come through Thailand, and the local industry feared losing millions of dollars from the Thai crisis.
But Kao Sivoeun, director of flight operations at Cambodia's civil aviation secretariat, said he anticipates air service between Thailand and Cambodia will return to pre-crisis levels.
"We are waiting for official permission letters from carriers in Bangkok to resume all flights to Cambodia," he said.
The anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) laid siege to Bangkok's two airports last week, prompting aviation officials there to suspend all air service and stranding an estimated 300,000 international travellers.
Protesters withdrew on Wednesday and limited domestic air service resumed, with Thai officials saying it could take a few days before the airports return to full operations.
Limited service has been in place since Tuesday with flights from U-Tapao airbase to Siem Reap.
Bun Rotha, director of Siem Reap International Airport, said Wednesday that two flights from U-Tapao had arrived, with a third originating from Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.
But Chap Sotharith, executive director of the Cambodia Institute for Peace and Cooperation, said anti-government protests would continue to affect Cambodia's economy for several costly days, even after air service resumes.
"Authorities will need at least five days to clean up the airports, restart the computer network systems and get airport staff working again," he said. "I believe that the impact on Cambodia's economy will continue for at least four or five days."
Cambodia, meanwhile, is trying to lure visitors back by selling the country as a safe travel destination, and by encouraging more arrivals from outside Thailand.
Chap Sotharith said that aviation officials have seen a rise in visitors from Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and other countries in the region.
Tourism losses sparked by the Thai political deadlock have added to government concerns for the key industry, which is already feeling the effects of the global financial crisis, Chap Sotharith said.
Tourism officials hope to see more than two million arrivals this year, but say now those numbers might be in doubt.