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Can Thailand lure the Chinese back?

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After half a decade of incredible growth in Chinese tourism to Thailand, the numbers are now in a tail-spin as numbers drop off around the country.

With annual rises of 20-50% per annum for half a decade there has been a big drop off in the last quarter (Q3) of 2018. This is the key statistic as compiled in two reports, one from Standard Chartered Bank and another from the Kasikorn Research Centre.

The numbers were peaking, even in the middle of the traditional wet-season this year, until a tour boat sank in Phuket during early July, resulting in the death of 47 Chinese tourists, many of them children. The subsequent ‘investigation’, botched PR attempts, mis-speaks from the deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan and the power of Chinese social media have seen the Chinese pursuing other locations for their travels.

But C-Trip, one of China’s largest online travel portals, says Thailand is still a popular destination and that the drops in Chinese tourist numbers to Thailand will slow down and maybe even rise again from the start of next year.

“Thailand remained at the top of the list for Chinese travellers during the annual Golden Week holiday although Japanese travel rose much faster than Thailand’s numbers, which were almost static this year.”

The Tourism and Sports Ministry says, “Arrivals from China, which account for 30% of Thailand’s total tourist mix, fell 12% in August. They grew only 3% during China’s Golden Week holiday, less than expected.”

There has been a scramble to try and keep the Land of Smiles attractive to Chinese booking their holidays with PR efforts like providing specific lanes at Immigration for Chinese travellers, proposals to provide multiple entry visas, instead of single entry. They’ve even proposed dropping the visa fees for Chinese tourists altogether.

The Chinese Yuan has also dropped against the Thai Baht – a fallout of the ensuing US/China trade war – that is affecting the spending power of Chinese when they arrive in Thailand and deter them making a booking in the first place.

But there is some positive news with the ratio of independent Chinese tourists (FITs) to tour groups rising to 7:3 this year from 6:4 last year, according to the Thai Tourism and Sports ministry. That’s the majority of Chinese deciding to visit Thailand based on their own bookings and visiting attractions of their own choice.

Standard Chartered Bank is still predicting that the number of all tourists in 2018 will still surpass past records, despite the drop in the Chinese tourist bookings.

“Thailand received 26 million international tourists overall from January-August 2018, up 10% year-on-year, on track to reach the government’s target of 38 million this year,” according to Tim Leelahaphan, an economist from SCB.

 

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