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Where are Thailand’s Chinese tourists?

Thailand’s tourism industry has been grappling with a significant shortfall in one particular demographic: Chinese tourists – in the past a principal source of revenue for Thailand’s tourism industry.

Despite the lifting of China’s zero-Covid restrictions at the start of the year, Thailand’s expectations of a tourism resurgence, particularly from Chinese visitors, are falling short. Earlier forecasts estimated up to five million Chinese arrivals by the year’s end, a fraction of the nearly 11 million in 2019, but fewer than 2.5 million visited in the first nine months of 2023.

Multiple reasons contribute to this downturn. Post-pandemic, there’s a scarcity of affordable flights, and China’s economic growth has slowed. Events like a shooting incident at a the Siam Paragon shopping centre in October, and negative portrayals of Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, in the media have sparked safety concerns among Chinese travellers.

Films like “No More Bets” have further cemented these concerns, depicting scams and exploitative conditions in Southeast Asian locales.

There’s also been a long list of Chinese inflicting damage to other Chinese visiting Thailand, including kidnappings and killings. Plus the Chinese online scam gangs, often based in Thailand, ripping off millions from Chinese citizens.

Safety apprehensions have led Thailand to redirect its tourism focus towards markets such as Russia, India and South Korea, even Kazakhstan. However, Chinese visitors are known for being significant spenders, averaging US$180 a day in Thailand, underscoring their economic importance and putting them at the top of the daily spending board.

To give a boost to Chinese tourism, the Thai government has given a temporary visa-free arrival of 30 days, instead of the earlier 15 day visa-on-arrival (or applying for a visa before their travel). This saves the Chinese travellers 2000 baht and mans they can just arrive with their passports.

Visa-free travel has also been offered to Kazakhs, Indians and Taiwanese to try and boost arrival numbers for the high season. Russians have been offered 90 day visa-waivers – up from the 30 days they’ve have for many decades.

There’s an interesting evolution in the Chinese tourist demographic visiting Thailand. Some Chinese travellers now prefer high-end experiences, displaying an openness to diverse activities and a willingness to spend on luxury accommodations and unique experiences.

Moreover, Thailand has become increasingly appealing to Chinese LGBTQ+ tourists seeking a more open and accepting environment than what they experience in China.

Despite safety worries, younger Chinese tourists are still intrigued by Thailand’s adventurous aspects, finding the manageable risk and spirit of adventure alluring. But there has been a discernible evolution of Chinese travellers from mass tourism, zero-dollar tours to free-and-independent, high-end travellers seeking better hotels and tourist experiences during their stay.

The decrease in Chinese tourism to Thailand is influenced by multiple factors like safety concerns, negative media portrayal and economic shifts. Efforts to attract the Chinese market by the Tourism Authority in Thailand continue due to their significant economic impact – there’s several campaign being run to try and re-ignite the supply of Chinese tourists back to Thailand.

The fast-evolving preferences of Chinese tourists, particularly towards high-end experiences and Thailand’s growing appeal to LGBTQ+ travellers, indicate a potential shift in the landscape of Thailand’s tourism.

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