Chinese travellers show bigger appetite for food tourism in SE Asia

Liu: for Chinese, local specialities in South-east Asia serve both as a new gastronomic experience as well as a way to better understand the destination

Gastronomy has been identified as a key focus for the Tourism of Thailand (TAT) as part of its Open to the New Shades campaign, with the NTO spearheading more efforts in this area with the launch of the first Michelin Guide in Bangkok last year and hosting the 4th UNWTO World Forum on Gastronomy Tourism in Thailand this year.

At the recent Thailand Travel Mart Plus (TTM+) in Pattaya, TAT’s deputy governor for marketing communications Tanes Petsuwan revealed to TTG Asia that TAT plans to continue the Michelin Guide for another four years, and will expand the coverage of the guide to Phuket and Phang Nga in 2019 and to Chiang Mai by 2020.

But for all its efforts made on the gastronomy front, dining is still an area where Thailand has room to grow, particularly for the Chinese market, say industry members.

Ctrip Gourmet List’s Liu: for Chinese, South-east Asian delicacies represent a new gastronomic experience as well as a way to better understand the destination

“China’s mobile-savvy generation, in particular, has a penchant for checking out local restaurants and making restaurant reservations on apps ahead of their visits. However, such reservation service is lacking for many Thai restaurants on Chinese apps,” Fang Yaqin, Beijing-based product manager for Alibaba Group Holding, a B2B travel wholesaler in Thailand, told TTG Asia at TTM+.

She noted that many restaurants in Thailand, even those listed on Michelin Guide Bangkok, are either not aware of this pre-booking characteristic among Chinese travellers or are perhaps not keen to work with agents for seat bookings.

“I see immense opportunities in Bangkok, but we have only few contracts signed with popular outlets like Blue Elephant and hotel restaurants,” Fang said, sharing that her company would like to seek more partnerships with high-end dining outlets in Thailand to better serve inbound tourists from China.

Even though consumer review service – which Fang calls the “equivalent to TripAdvisor for the Chinese” – already covers restaurants in Thailand, most dining establishments in the country remain unbookable through the app, she claimed.

The voracious Chinese appetite for gourmet experiences has gotten Ctrip launching its own gourmet appraisal system in 2016 to provide local food and restaurant recommendations and convenient online table bookings for Chinese travellers.

Ctrip Gourmet List, which some liken to the Chinese equivalent of the Michelin Guide, has covered approximately 15,000 restaurants in 120 popular destinations both in China and around the world by end-2017.

In Thailand – where one-fifth of all Chinese outbound travellers visited last year, according to Ctrip’s 2017 Outbound Travel Report – the Chinese OTA giant sees a burgeoning food scene that is ripe to grow for Chinese travellers.

“Chinese are great food lovers and are willing to try local delicacies and cuisines. Dining is relatively untapped and there remain lots of opportunities to explore in South-east Asia to see which markets would attract more food lovers,” said Kimi Liu, CEO of Ctrip Gourmet List.

“As more Chinese travel to South-east Asia, local specialties and well-known local restaurants will offer them the perfect entry point into not just a wonderful gastronomical experience but a greater understanding and respect for their host countries,” said Liu.

Last month, Ctrip Gourmet List released its 2018 Taste the City Food List of Bangkok with a selection of 303 top ranked restaurants that reflect Chinese travellers’ tastes and preferences.

Besides Thailand, Ctrip Gourmet List is also available in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore.

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