BANGKOK, THAILAND - The Thai cabinet on Tuesday approved a US$143 million (S$218 million) tourism rescue fund to combat waning profits resulting from the downturn in the global economy and last year's Bangkok airport closures.
An official at the Tourism and Sports Ministry said the fund had been set aside to guarantee a number of two-year low-interest loans for businesses working in the tourism sector.
'The cabinet approved a 5 billion baht budget to use as loans for business operators in the tourism industry,' Permanent Secretary Sasithara Pichaichannarong told reporters.
The loans would be provided by commercial banks but underwritten by the government, she said.
President of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA) Apichart Sankary said the loans would provide much needed cash for struggling small businesses.
'With this money, travel agents, hoteliers, restaurants and car rental companies can borrow money from the banks to boost their cash flow,' he said.
'No agents or hotels want to sack their staff or limit working hours... but they have to because of the crisis. They can use this money for marketing or just to keep their business afloat,' he added.
Thailand's tourism industry accounts for five percent of gross domestic product and employs some two million people or up to seven percent of the country's total workforce.
Demonstrators opposed to the previous government occupied the capital's international Suvarnabhumi and domestic Don Muang airports in Bangkok last year for more than a week until December 4.
The blockade left hundreds of thousands of visitors stranded and prevented 3.4 million tourists from visiting Thailand, severely denting the kingdom's tourist-friendly image.