IN 2017, Chinese tourists to Thailand outnumbered any other nationality by threefold.
However, these figures are drastically declining after a tragic boating accident in Phuket earlier this month and tourism operators are desperate to get Chinese tourists booking again.
The deadly incident claimed 47 lives when the tourist boat they were traveling on capsized seven kilometres out to sea. Of the 105 people on board, 93 of them were from China and all 47 fatalities were Chinese nationals.
This instantly led to over 7,300 hotel bookings in Phuket being canceled between July and August.
Some China-based airlines such as Spring Airlines, China Eastern, and Xiamen Airlines have also canceled direct flights between China and Phuket in the wake of the tragedy.
And now, it seems vacation cancellations have spilled over to other resort destinations along the Andaman coast such as Krabi, Phang Nga, and popular backpacker destination Koh Samui in the Surat Thani province.
Thai Travel Agents Association president Vichit Prakobkosol suggested in a statement that a visa fee waiver should be offered to Chinese tourists for a short period of around six months.
Vichit urged the government not to delay establishing this offer as Chinese tourists could easily book vacations in other countries over the next few months.
Currently, Chinese tourists visiting Thailand must pay around THB1,000 (US$30) in visa fees which can be purchased on arrival, but Prakobkosol wants to omit this fee until visitor numbers are up again.
Until now, Thailand has been experiencing a tourism boom with around 36 million travelers visiting the Southeast Asia nation last year.
Chinese tourists massively contribute to this figure as more than a third of Thailand’s international visitors are from China, with around three million of these heading to Phuket.
But the government is striving for 37 million visitors this year with the hopes of generating an estimated THB3 trillion (US$89 million) through combined domestic and foreign tourism revenue.
If this figure is achievable, it would mean tourism would account for a fifth of the Thai economy, so it is little wonder Prakobkosol and members of the Thai Travel Agents Association are keen to attract Chinese tourists.
But will waiving visa fees be enough to lure tourists back to Thailand and specifically resorts along the Andaman coast?
While it may help a little, other measures such as setting up a command center to regulate boat safety in the Andaman Sea are also being proposed.
This proposal came from Phuket Governor Napat Prodthong, who is urging the Thai government to enforce stringent regulations on the quality of all incoming and outgoing sea vessels.
These suggestions can’t come soon enough for those affected by cancellations as celebrations for Golden Week, a Chinese national holiday, are set to kick off on Oct 1, 2018.
Thailand has become a favoured destination for Chinese travelers over Golden Week, with tourists looking to get out of China for the seven days of paid vacation.
This year, however, travelers could forgo Thailand altogether in favour of other Southeast Asian destinations meaning Thailand will miss out on Chinese tourists’ THB40,000 (US$1200) average spend.