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Shopping Malls in Bangkok Reopen

Major shopping centers, like the upscale Siam Paragon at the heart of Bangkok's retail district, are reopening after civil unrest.

Shopping malls in Bangkok reopened Tuesday afternoon after nearby antigovernment protests forced officials to shutter the downtown centers for 36 hours.

This story first appeared in the April 15, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Siam Paragon, the upscale 5.4-million-square-foot shopping center in the heart of Bangkok’s retail district, reopened around noon. The center, which is built on land owned by the Thai royal family and is next door to one of the monarch’s palaces, was closed Monday and early Tuesday at the request of the police because of security concerns, said a spokesman for Siam Paragon Development Corp. A bolstered security force of 800 officers working with metal detectors, security cameras and bomb detectors was in place at the mall, he said.

“We’re just taking it day by day,” the spokesman said in a phone interview.

Nearby Siam Center and Siam Discovery Center, also owned by Siam Paragon Development Corp., reopened Tuesday afternoon. Central World, a 6-million-square-foot shopping center a few blocks away from Siam Paragon, also reopened Tuesday afternoon. The center, which is across the street from a Royal Thai police station, also was closed at the request of the police, said Nattakit Tangpoonsinthana, executive vice president of mall operator Central Pattana.

Central Chit Lom, the centerpiece seven-floor department store of the Central Retail Group, was closed Monday, but reopened Tuesday with extra security, Tangpoonsinthana said.

“It’s safe now,” he said.

A command post for Siam Paragon Development Corp. staffed by 30 personnel from security, marketing, public relations and operations was operating out of the shopping center or nearby office tower and was in constant touch with police throughout the antigovernment protests, the spokesman said. He added he was working from his home on Tuesday because of the protests around the city.

Antigovernment protests, which resulted in the deaths of two people and injured at least 123, have disrupted Bangkok streets for a week and forced the cancellation of a regional leaders’ summit in Pattaya last weekend. Protesters wearing red shirts in support of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra have swarmed city streets, burned buses and tires, and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and another election.

Vejjajiva, who came to power in December, declared a state of emergency and said he doesn’t plan to lift it until all is calm in the capital city.

The Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday the “government was firmly in control” and conditions had returned to normal. Protest leaders called off the demonstrations, which were based at Government House, and sent most of the demonstrators home, the ministry said.

The demonstrations disrupted Thai New Year celebrations known as the Songkran Festival, which are held April 13 to 15. In an attempt to clean up the city and ensure the disturbances have ended, the government extended the holiday through Friday.

The Songkran Festival is one of the busiest times of the year at Siam Paragon, the spokesman said, noting a Songkran Music Festival planned at the mall this week has been canceled.

“This will hurt our business, but we don’t know how much,” he said.

Somphols Manarangsan, a political economist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, predicted the continued political unrest in Thailand would dramatically hurt tourism and retailing, and could cost the country up to $6 billion in lost revenue.

“This is high season for tourism,” he said. “During the last few days, many foreign tourists from around the world have withdrawn from Thailand.”

Manarangsan said the firm hand the government has taken in stemming the demonstrations and its openness with foreign media would help rebuild consumer confidence.

“It will take hard work to recover, and it will take a long time,” he added.

The Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs already is tackling the task of rebuilding the tourism industry, which suffered a blow in December when antigovernment protests shuttered the Bangkok International airport for a week and stranded thousands of visitors.

“Foreigners have not been targeted in the ongoing political conflict,” the Ministry said Tuesday. “Be that as it may, foreigners are advised to avoid areas in which protesters are still gathered. The government will continue to step up measures to ensure the safety and well-being of foreigners in Thailand.”

The Tourism Authority of Thailand also moved to reassure tourists late Tuesday and said “various tourist attractions and shopping districts are open for business as usual.”

The American embassy in Bangkok issued a warning April 12 to Americans living or visiting Thailand to avoid areas of conflict and to exercise caution. It also warned citizens that demonstrations were focusing on Government House, Parliament and the Central World and Siam Paragon shopping malls.