Foreign Ministry Moderates Travel Advisory on Thailand

Israeli embassy in Bangkok stops issuing visas for Thai workers, leaving 1,500 potential workers without permits.

The Foreign Ministry on Wednesday moderated its advisory to Israeli travelers to Thailand in light of the calm in the country a day after the military coup there. "We see no problem in flying to Thailand or spending time there as this is a quiet coup," the ministry stated.

Meanwhile, local farmers are reporting that Thai government officials have stopped issuing visas for their citizens to work in agriculture in Israel. Also, travel agents in Israel are reporting that many clients called with questions Wednesday but few reservations for travel to Bangkok over the Jewish holidays were canceled.

Nonetheless, the ministry advises Israelis "to continue to take precautions and monitor developments through the press."

Israel's embassy in Thailand reported Tuesday that "since the coup and the installation of martial law, there has been sparse military presence in the streets and a drop in traffic inside Bangkok."

The embassy explained that business operated as usual, with "government offices, banks, fuel companies, and some businesses closed, but the airport and public transit operated as usual."

The Foreign Ministry estimates that there are 6,000-8,000 Israelis in Thailand, mostly backpackers.

Thai government officials on Wednesday stopped issuing permits to Thai citizens to work in agriculture in Israel and all attempts to reach the offices in charge of the visas failed. About 1,500 people in rural northern Thailand are waiting for exit visas to work in Israeli farming.

A representative of flower growers and Farmers Association Director for Foreign Labor Haim Hadad said Wednesday that there had been many delays recently in Israeli work visas for Thai workers, both due to the war and due to bureaucratic obstacles raised by Israeli government officials.

During the war, Thai citizens, under directives from their government, left their employers in the North, and some even returned to Thailand.

Israel's ambassador to Thailand, Yael Rubinstein, told Haaretz on Wednesday that she believed the visa process would be renewed shortly.

The initial cancellation of trips to one of the most popular destinations for Israelis during the holidays - Bangkok - as a result of political unrest there was expected seriously hurt El Al Israel Airlines and tour operators.

An estimated 90,000 Israelis are scheduled to take El Al flights to Bangkok during the holidays in October.

520,000 Israelis flying abroad for holidaysAccording to Rami Levy, heads of the El Al commerce and flight connections department, a total of 520,000 Israelis will be flying abroad during the holidays in September and October.

Levy says bookings for October saw a rise of about 47 percent in demand for tickets with destination Hong Kong, and 26 percent to Mumbai.

The number of Israelis traveling to China has doubled.

There has also been a five percent rise in ticket sales to New York compared to last year, with about 16,000 Israelis expected to visit the city during the holidays.

El Al has added flights to meet the demand, with 23 percent more space allocated to the Far East, and 14 percent more space to North America.

The company has also increased space to Western Europe by about 10 percent, with about 60 percent of Israelis flying out of Israel for the holidays heading for Western European destinations.

About eight percent of Israelis traveling for the holidays are staying closer to home - choosing eastern Mediterranean destinations such as Greece, Turkey, Egypt and Cyprus.

Most Israelis are traveling with their children or as couples, and staying abroad for an average of 14 days, Levy said.

An estimated 230,000 foreign tourists are scheduled to arrive in Israel in September and October, 130,000 of whom are flying in from New York, London and Paris, a decline of 5 percent compared to last year.

Levy also said El Al and its subsidiary Sun D'Or will be increasing its flights to Uman, Ukraine for the Rosh Hashana celebrations at the tomb of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav. The flights will depart between September 19 and 21, and return via Kiev between September 26 and 27.