For Thailand’s tourism officials, the Chinese market is one of the most important, but it has its downsides, including zero-dollar tourism.
Thailand’s tourism industry let its joy erupt when Beijing ended its zero Covid policy late last year, sparking a rush of Chinese travelers freed from travel restrictions.
The first groups of Chinese tourists to arrive in Thailand were warmly welcomed by politicians and received gifts.
Data from Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports showed more than 517,000 Chinese travelers visited Thailand in the first three months of 2023, compared to 13,700 arrivals in the first quarter of 2022.
In the first quarter of 2023, Chinese travelers were in the top five groups of foreign arrivals, along with visitors from Malaysia, Russia, South Korea and India.
See: The number of Chinese tourists to Thailand continues to rise
Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said fewer Chinese travelers than expected arrived in the first quarter of 2023, but the number is expected to increase as agencies promote Thailand to eager Chinese. to travel after three years of lockdowns.
The influx of Chinese tourists also depends on the number of flights from China to Thailand, and it took time for the airlines to reorganize, but the flights keep increasing.
See: Thailand hopes to welcome 1 million Chinese visitors in October
In 2023, Thailand’s National Economic and Social Development Council forecast the country’s gross domestic product to grow by 2.7% to 3.7%, with tourism expected to benefit sectors such as restaurants and services.
Amonthep Chawla, head of research at CIMB Thai Bank, said he “expects many more Chinese tourists to come to Thailand in the second half of this year, which could benefit four sectors:
- Hotels at bargain prices
- medical tourism
- The condominium market
- Business travelers for FDI (foreign direct investment) and trade
Paul Pruangkarn, chief of staff at the Pacific Asia Travel Association in Bangkok, said he agreed China’s resumption of travel and reopening was welcome for many businesses looking to rebuild and recover.
Chinese travelers, he noted, “constituted about 20% of all visitors to Thailand” before the pandemic.
But all is not easy on this front, Thailand must review its way of issuing E-visas in China which is limited to 84,000 electronic visas per month and is also facing a smear campaign on Chinese social networks.
The disadvantages of returning Chinese tourists to Thailand
Some analysts, however, have warned against overstating the economic benefits of rising Chinese tourist numbers.
“I think there is too much hype around the benefits of returning Chinese tourists and tourism in general for several reasons,” said Kobsidthi Silpachai, head of capital markets research at Kasikornbank of Thailand.
One such reason is the apparent return of zero-dollar tourism, meaning cheap package tours aimed at Chinese tourists on a budget.
“Chinese operators have invested in apartments and shops, which has injected initial capital, similar to what happened in Cambodia,” Kobsidthi wrote in an email to VOA. Thai.
“But thereafter, there are few trickle-down effects to spread wealth in the local economy. »
Paisarn Suethanuwong, tour operator and member of the Association of Professional Tourist Guides of Thailand in Bangkok, wonders about the considerable growth of businesses aimed at Chinese customers.
“Some shops are nicely decorated and I’ve never seen customers eat there, but they’re still in business,” he said.
“Honestly, I wonder if they are not open to launder money.
If so, this is not normal growth. »
Rerngrit La-ookit, a barista at Cloud Cafe in northern Chiang Mai, believes the influx of Chinese tourists has a downside.
“The arrival of zero-dollar travel has consumed our resources, and the economy has never seen growth anywhere else,” Rerngrit said.
See: Chinese “zero dollar” tourism threatens Thailand again
While the return of Chinese tourists is a boon for many people in Thailand, law enforcement in the country has seen an increase in crimes committed by Chinese.
Surachate Hakparn, deputy national police chief, said Thai law enforcement has launched a crackdown on Chinese criminal groups that operate illegal businesses.
See: Thailand to tackle Chinese mafias
The number of such companies has increased not only in Thailand, but also in other Southeast Asian countries in recent years.
According to Surachate, the illicit activities of Chinese nationals, known as “grey businesses”, include drug smuggling and human trafficking through service establishments such as pubs and bars.
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