Chinese tourists to Thailand may drop as tour group restrictions lift

Picture courtesy of Prachachat

In the wake of China’s announcement to allow tour groups to visit Japan and several other nations for the first time since 2020, Thailand’s tourism industry braces itself for a sharp fall in Chinese tourists. This drop is in part caused by ongoing visa application challenges, in spite of the government’s efforts to simplify the process.

This recent development comes as China finally moves to lift previously imposed Covid-19 travel restrictions on tour groups. Aside from Japan, other countries including the US, South Korea, and Australia can accept Chinese tour groups. In addition, China has expressed the desire for Japan to consider a visa waiver for Chinese citizens.

The honorary secretary-general of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta), Adith Chairattananon, expressed the potential lure of simplifying the visa application process could be for drawing tourists at a time when competitors are welcoming tour groups.

Despite the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s attempts to streamline the necessary paperwork for Chinese tourist visas and shorten the approval procedure to seven days, a comprehensive strategy to rejuvenate these market shifts remains vague.

Holding on to his apprehensions, Adith, cannot predict confidently that Thailand will attract 5 million Chinese visitors this year given the minimal growth in the number of tour groups since the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak.

In terms of daily visiting Chinese tourists, the numbers are significantly lower than back in 2019 when over 10,000 tourists entered Thailand per day. To ramp up the tourist volume, Atta proposes a temporary hiatus on tourist visa fees for a few months, reported Bangkok Post.

Operators in the primary tourist city, Chiang Mai, eagerly anticipate an influx of Chinese visitors to bolster their businesses, particularly smaller establishments like hotels, bus services, and certain restaurants catering to larger groups.

These operators previously hosted a significant number of Chinese tourists, with Chiang Mai reporting more than 120,000 Chinese visitors since the beginning of the year. Nevertheless, persistent visa hurdles diminish Thailand’s appeal.

Additionally, with the potential threat of China going into deflation, outbound travel decisions for its residents are subject to be affected, suggests Punlop Saejew, the Tourism Council of Chiang Mai’s president.

Per the Thai Hotels Association’s survey of 91 accommodation facilities, nearly 70% anticipate Chinese customers to recover only to fewer than 40% of 2019’s figures in the fourth quarter.

However, Nok Air’s chief executive, Wutthiphum Jurangkool, notes optimistic signs of higher demand from Chinese tourists for Thailand compared to Japan due to the lower cost of living. The airline plans to resume flights to an additional four cities by September’s end, in time for China’s Golden Week holiday in October, to cater to the skyrocketing demand, given the currently limited seating capacity.

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Neill Fronde

Neill is a journalist from the United States with 10+ years broadcasting experience and national news and magazine publications. He graduated with a degree in journalism and communications from the University of California and has been living in Thailand since 2014.