Thailand needs aggressive remedial measures to woo the Chinese market back, with expectations that the decline in Chinese arrivals would persist into the first quarter of 2019 causing serious worry among travel agents in the country.
The destination recently sustained a series of setbacks to its core feeder, including the July boat accident off Phuket that killed 47 Chinese tourists, a dengue fever outbreak among Chinese travellers and a Chinese traveller hurt by an airport security guard.
The Ministry of Tourism and Sports reported that arrivals from China started to drop in July with a total of 929,771 (-0.9 per cent year-on-year). Arrivals continued to decline, down 12 per cent year-on-year to 867,461 visitors in August, and down 15 per cent year-on-year to 647,664 visitors year-on-year in September.
The Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA) expects that the number of Chinese visitors to Thailand in the rest of this year will fall by 15 per cent per month unless the government rolls out aggressive promotions to counter the decline.
“We are now very worried about tourism in the first quarter of 2019. If we do not have any aggressive promotion to woo back Chinese travellers, the situation will extend into the first quarter of 2019. We will lose huge business opportunities to rivals,” said ATTA president Wichit Prakobkosol.
Wichit does not think Thailand will achieve its target to welcome 10 million Chinese travellers next year amid high competition.
This would also affect the overall tourism target of 2019 because the Chinese market accounted for one-third of Thailand’s total inbound tourism market, he said.
ATTA and members believed that the government acknowledges the situation, pointing to the upcoming visa-on-arrival fee exemption (worth 2,000 baht or US$61) as a demonstration of its commitment to woo back travellers, he added.
Deputy prime minister Somkid Jatusripitak plans to extend the visa-on-arrival fee exemption to travellers from 21 countries. The exemption is scheduled to start on November 15, 2018 and last until January 15, 2019.
According to Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor Yuthasak Supasorn, the waiver will help to woo Chinese travellers back and enable the country to achieve its previous target of 11 to 12 million Chinese tourists this year.
Yuthasak added that TAT allocated a budget of 50 million baht to marketing campaigns. It would include subsidies for charter flights from second-tier provinces of China to Thailand and promotions with travel agents.