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Thailand eyes tourist boon from Asian Beach Games
[BANGKOK] The Thai resort of Phuket will host the Asian Beach Games this week, an event organisers hope will provide a shot-in-the-arm for the kingdom's troubled tourism industry.
The fourth Beach Games are also expected to draw extra interest this year coming just days after the Association of National Olympic Committees decided to create the inaugural world beach games, which could begin in 2017.
The biannual Asian Beach Games were started by the Olympic Council of Asia in 2008 and have taken place in Indonesia's Bali, Muscat in Oman and Haiyang in China.
Starting on Friday, Phuket will be the first edition of the event to see competition in beach track and field, which features 60-metre sprints, shot put, long jump, high jump and cross country.
Jet-skiing, water polo, body building, Russian martial art sambo and the croquet-style woodball are also among a varied programme to be contested over 10 days in the Thai resort.
Thailand's tourism sector is desperate for good news after the murder of two British holidaymakers on a normally tranquil island in September compounded the damage done by protests that led to a May coup on the kingdom's reputation as a tourist paradise.
"The games are good for any host country," Virat Patee, director of the Sports Authority of Thailand in Phuket, told AFP.
"In the coming years tourist numbers will probably increase as we can use the Beach Games as a selling point," he said, adding resorts such as Phuket "can not stand on the same spot" amid fierce competition for tourist dollars across the region.
Nearly 50 hotels are fully booked to host 6,000 officials and athletes expected for the Games, he added, while tens of thousands of spectators are also likely to visit.
Months of political turmoil which ended in a military coup - and the imposition of martial law - frightened off tourists and decimated the nation's international sporting calendar.
The US$1 million Thailand Golf Open was cancelled while a glamourous annual motorsport exhibition event in Bangkok was also axed as protests raged in the first part of the year.
Thailand is holding its breath to see if tourists flock back for the peak season which is just starting.