updated 4/2/2010 12:10:00 PM ET 2010-04-02T16:10:00

Thailand's tourism industry called Friday on the government and its Red Shirt opponents to make peace and find a way to stop mass street protests that they say are scaring away tourists.

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Representatives from the tourism industry advertised their message by briefly staging their own protest at a central Bangkok park Friday afternoon.

"Please Stop Hurting Tourism Thailand," read a large sign carried by a group of hotel cooks in their white kitchen attire. The rally drew about 100 people, including hotel concierges in their uniforms.

Red-shirted anti-government protesters have been camped in the historic district of Bangkok since March 12. To press demands for new elections, they have blocked major roads, snarled traffic and raised concerns of violence that have prompted several dozen countries to issue travel warnings. They are due to stage another major rally on Saturday.

The rallies have dealt the latest blow to Thailand's key tourism industry, which has suffered through Thailand's political crisis since 2006.

"The demonstrations — with (protesters) blocking the roads — have disturbed many tourists. It damages the country's image and paralyses the economy," said Apichart Sankary, an adviser to the Federation of Thai Tourism Associations.

"The decline has reached a point where we risk losing visitors for the long term," Apichart said. "We want all sides to find a way out of this mess as quickly as possible."

Earlier, another anti-protest group — dressed in pink shirts — held a demonstration in Bangkok's Lumpini Park, where the tourism rally was also held later in the day.

The so-called pink shirts are pro-government and say they are frustrated by the reds' noisy, traffic-clogging protests that are hurting Bangkok businesses.

Hotels nationwide reported an average of 40 percent occupancy last month, down from the typical March average of 75 percent occupancy, said Prakij Chin-amornpong, chairman of the Thai Hotels Association, which represents 653 hotels nationwide.

Last year's March average was lower than usual at 50 percent occupancy, also due to the political crisis, he said.

Slideshow: Thai treasure Hotels in Bangkok were among hardest hit, with tourists trying to avoid the capital, he said. Hotels on the beach island of Phuket and other places with international airports have fared better, he added.

The Red Shirts are mostly supporters of ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed by a 2006 military coup, and pro-democracy activists who opposed the army takeover.

They are calling on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to dissolve Parliament and call fresh elections, which he has repeatedly rejected.

Andrew Jacka, president of the Thai Spa Association, attended Friday's rally waving a Thai flag and wearing a bandanna with the Thai national colors around his forehead.

"Thai tourism is hurting," he said, calling himself apolitical but concerned for Thailand. "Since there seems to be no conclusion in sight to the political problem, it's the ordinary people that have to stand up and voice their concerns."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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