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Thailand could achieve pre-Covid tourist numbers next year as Chinese package tours resume
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2023
The Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta) on Wednesday welcomed the return of Chinese tour groups, saying their return earlier than expected, would help tourist arrivals reach the pre-Covid level next year.
Wichit Prakobkosol, an adviser to Atta, said the number of Chinese tourists were rebounding fast because the list of 20 nations that the Chinese government allowed its people to visit as tour groups did not include Thailand’s major competitors for Chinese tourists in Asia.
He said the list did not include Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, so most Chinese tour groups chose to visit Thailand.
However, Wichit said the return of Chinese tourists was still inhibited by the lack of adequate flights. He said the number of flights from China to Thailand was still only 10 per cent of the pre-Covid level and most were flights of airlines in China.
The number of flights would increase by 20% next month, and would rise to 40% or 50% of pre-Covid level in the second quarter.
“It is expected that a lot of Chinese tourists would return in the second quarter,” Wichit said.
“It’s possible that the second quarter will see the number of Chinese tourists rise to 50% of the same quarter in 2019, and further rise to 70% in the third quarter and 100% in the fourth quarter when compared to the same quarters of 2019.”
As a result, he said Atta believed the number of Chinese tourists would rise to 5 million or even 6 million this year and 11 million next year, which would be on par with 2019.
Wichit added that the return of Chinese tourists had prompted several tour agencies to resume business.
A senior official of a large tour agency in Thailand, who asked not to be named, said it seemed the Covid pandemic had reset the tour agency business for dealing with Chinese tourists.
The source explained that now tour agents in China charged Chinese tourists about 3,500 to 4,500 yuan for a six-day package or about 20,000 to 30,000 baht, compared to about 5,000 per package before the Covid pandemic.
The source said high competition before the pandemic had caused tour agencies in China to operate the so-called “zero dollar” packages and the Chinese tour agents gave little share or none to their counterparts in Thailand.
The source said the “zero-dollar” tour operators ran their businesses at a loss but they had opened shops in Thailand and sent Chinese tourists to buy goods at the shops to recoup the losses.
The source said the Covid pandemic had caused the cost of operation to be high so no one would survive operating the “zero dollar” packages. Moreover, new Chinese tourists like to shop in department stores, not in small shops, the source added.
Yuthachai Charanachitta, CEO of Onyxy Hospitality Group, affirmed the “zero dollar” practice had disappeared and the first groups of Chines tourists are premium tourists, not mass ones.
Yuthachai said the tourism cost in Thailand has increased and room prices had risen by 20-30% and air tickets were priced high and in limited number, so Chinese people with low-purchasing power have not returned to Thailand yet.
Meanwhile, Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said Chinese tourists play a significant role in the Thai economic recovery.
From January 1 to February 2, 99,429 Chinese tourists had visited Thailand and the number would reach 300,000 at the end of the first quarter in March, Yuthasak added.
He said the TAT had revised the number of Chinese tourists from the initial prediction of 5 million this year to 7 or 8 million.
He added that the TAT expected tourism would generate between 1.25 trillion to 2.38 trillion baht revenue for the country. He said some 11 to 30 million foreign tourists would generate between 580 billion to 1.5 trillion baht of revenue while local travellers would generate 670 to 880 billion baht.
Meanwhile, Yol Phokasub, chairman of Thai Retailers Association and CEO of Central Retail Corporation, said his association would call on the government to test a tax-free zone for foreign tourists in a sandbox format. He said the experiment could be carried out in Phuket and the tax-free zone would encourage foreign tourists to spend more in the kingdom.