The Thai Tourism Bureau estimates that Chinese tourist arrivals to Thailand in 2023 will be lower than forecast.

Thailand had expected a surge in tourist arrivals from China after reopening its borders following the coronavirus pandemic. The tourism bureau initially predicted 5 million visitors from China in 2023.

However, arrivals from China were around 3 million before December, and the year-end total is now estimated at around 3.5 million visitors.

Changing trends in Chinese tourism

Vincent Zhuang, a journalist from China and former editor of luxury lifestyle magazine Robb Report, said Chinese travel trends are changing.

“The Chinese tourist has changed a lot,” Zhuang told DW. He added that Chinese tourists are traveling more domestically as flight and hotel prices remain high elsewhere in Asia.

“There are many options in China for both luxury and economy tourists,” he said.

China’s economic problems, which include a housing crisis, a deteriorating job market and record high youth unemployment, are also contributing to people thinking twice about traveling abroad.

With reduced purchasing power, the number of international flights between China and Thailand has still not returned to pre-pandemic levels, officials say.

Bangkok’s Chinatown is a hotspot for international tourists with its lively food stalls, authentic Chinese dishes and bright neon-lit signs. On group tours, you can often see crowds of tourists from mainland China wandering these streets.

A tourist strolls through the nighttime streets of Bangkok’s ChinatownImage: Tommy Walker/DW

However, shopkeepers and market vendors in Bangkok’s Chinatown told DW that the number of Chinese tourists this year is lower than before.

Hotel bookings from China are also lower than expected in another popular tourist destination, the island of Phuket in southern Thailand.

“China was one of our top countries before the pandemic… I think almost 18 to 20% of our business came from China and was heavily dependent on tour groups,” said Ranjeet Viswanathan, director of sales and marketing at Hyatt Regency Phuket Resort.

“But at the moment China accounts for about five percent of my business,” he told DW.

Thailand’s image problem in China?

Three people, including a Chinese national, were killed in a shooting at Siam Paragon shopping center in Bangkok in September. News of the shooting led around 60,000 Chinese tourists to cancel their trips to Thailand, according to Thai authorities.

And the Chinese blockbuster film “No More Bets,” released in August, did not paint Thailand in a positive light.

The film tells the story of Chinese citizens who are tricked into taking a work trip abroad, only to be forced to engage in illegal gambling and cryptocurrency fraud in an unnamed country in Southeast Asia.

However, there are indirect references to Thailand in the film, such as in a scene where a street sign with the name “Sukhumvit” can be seen, a well-known district in Bangkok.

The film was seen as a reminder of China’s incessant telecommunications scams.

Thailand is working to attract Chinese tourists

Nithee Seeprae, deputy governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, admitted more needs to be done to show that Thailand welcomes Chinese arrivals.

“According to our travel partners in China, tourists still trust Thailand as a safe travel destination. But maybe we need to coordinate with Chinese influencers and the Chinese influencer network in Thailand,” he told DW.

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The Thai government has also tried to make it easier for Chinese visitors to enter Thailand.

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin announced in September that Chinese tourists would be able to enter Thailand from mainland China without needing a visa for 30 days until the end of February.

“The move is long overdue if Thailand wants to attract more Chinese visitors,” said Gary Bowerman, a Malaysia-based Asia tourism analyst.

It is clear that Thailand is desperately trying to recapture the benefits of Chinese tourism that has boosted its economy.

Thailand’s tourism economy accounted for 11.5% of the country’s total GDP in 2019.

Of the record-breaking 39 million foreign arrivals this year, over 11 million were Chinese visitors. However, following the pandemic in 2022, Thailand welcomed just 11 million international visitors, with China accounting for just 273,567 of those arrivals.

With Chinese arrivals estimated at 3.5 million in 2023, Thai officials are predicting a stronger recovery in the Chinese market, forecasting the number to more than double to over 8 million arrivals in 2024.

However, Bowerman told DW that existing factors this year could still contribute to Chinese tourism returning to previous levels next year.

This year “has been a very difficult year to predict Chinese overseas demand for Southeast Asian destinations such as Thailand,” he said.

“Thailand hopes for more stable and predictable demand patterns for Chinese arrivals, and overall growth is expected in 2024,” he added.

“However, forecasting an accurate number at this point is a bit like waving a finger in the wind as airlines are nervous about ramping back up capacity,” said tourism analyst Bowerman.

Edited by: Wesley Rahn

Source : www.dw.com

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