What is Thailand doing to lure back Chinese travelers?

Thai tourism sector

Chinese travelers account for nearly one third of tourists to Thailand. Source: Shutterstock

THANKS to rising wealth in China, the Chinese are traveling and spending more than ever before on their journeys abroad. Responding to the boom, tourism’s biggest players around the world are in a mad scramble for a slice of the Chinese outbound travel pie.

Tourism-dependent Thailand, in particular, has more reason than any to woo Chinese tourists, after a serious Phuket boating accident killed 47 Chinese nationals in July.

The fatal incident put a dent in Thai tourism, resulting in 7,300 hotel cancellations between July and August. Chinese tourist numbers to the Southeast Asian nation also slumped during these months.

TTG Asia reported that in the first half of 2018, Chinese arrivals to Thailand accounted for 6.9 million people, which marked a year-on-year growth of 21.4 percent.

But Thailand’s tourism figures dropped by 0.9 percent in July, and in Bangkok, Chinese tourist arrivals decreased by 30 percent.

However, the honorary secretary-general of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA) Adith Chairattananon, told TTG Asia that he expects Chinese arrivals will begin increasing again during Chinese Golden Week holidays starting in October.

The Thai Ministry of Tourism and Sports is also still hopeful the kingdom will reach its goal of 10 million Chinese tourists by the end of the year.

Tour operators and hotels are working hard to overcome the decline in business and putting their efforts into promoting tourism.

Between Sept 16 and 21, ATTA will be hosting roadshows in China’s Tianjin, Qingdao, Hefei, and Nanjing to promote quality and safe tourism in Thailand.

“This is part of a strategy to stimulate the Chinese market in the last season of this year. The selected cities have a total population of 250 million,” Adith explained.

This effort is in addition to a proposal put forward by Thai Travel Agents Association president Vichit Prakobkosol in July.

Vichit suggested the Thai government should waive visa fees for Chinese travelers for a period of six months. However, this offer is yet to be implemented and some netizens don’t believe the answer lies in avid tourism promotion to Chinese citizens.

Instead, people are urging Thailand’s tourism officials to implement better safety measures.

“These guys just don’t get it, 47 (FORTY-SEVEN) Chinese tourists lives were lost because everybody just sleeps here in the LOS (Land of Smiles),” one commentator wrote.

“No one adheres to any laws, let alone are they enforced or checked on, audited, etc, and all you do is scratch your heads and come up with this brainless idea of waiving the visa entry fee.”

However, following the Phuket boat accident, Thailand has set up the National Tourism Safety and Security Committee to oversee safety measures related to tourism.

These new safety regulations being implemented by the government will ensure everyone coming in and out of Phuket port is registered and accounted for.

“The government and private sectors are cooperating to build trust among Chinese tourists by enforcing stricter laws and approving a budget to improve the Phuket port,” president of Thai Hotels Association (Southern Chapter) Kongsak Khoopongsakorn told TTG Asia.

“The Digital Economy Promotion Agency is now responsible for developing a system to check tourist information at the Phuket port. In doing so, officials will know the number and names of tourists before (boarding).”

There is no guarantee Chinese tourism to Thailand will bounce back, but with Golden Week starting in a little over a month, the Thai government is going to have to pull off something special to ensure this happens.