The strong growth in the number of tourist arrivals from China could be a push for the government to speed up its plans to add new tourism destinations and facilities to serve this burgeoning tourism market.
The number of arrivals from China in the first 11 months of 2012 rose by 56% year-on-year to 2.52 million.
Chinese tourists have become the biggest market, with a 12.78% share, followed by Malaysia, with 2.23 million visitors and a 11.3% share; Japan, with 1.23 million visitors and a 6.27% market share; Russia, with 1.06 million visitors and a 5.38% share, and South Korea, with 1.05 million visitors and a 5.32% share, according to the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA).
ATTA president Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn estimates the number of arrivals from China will hit a record high of 3 million in 2013. The stability of Thai politics is a favourable factor.
China Tourism Academy (CTA), an information centre on China's outbound tourism, has reported an impressive growth of people making trips overseas. In 2012, nearly 80 million Chinese travelled abroad, a 12% year-on-year rise, and their spending is estimated at US$80 billion, up 16% year-on-year.
China currently ranks as the third-biggest global outbound tourism source market and it is expected to soon overtake Germany and the US in terms of number of travellers and spending, according to the CTA.
Mr Sisdivachr said China could become a big tourism market for Thailand and offset the drop in European arrivals.
The market may help the government achieve its goal of 2 trillion baht in tourism revenue by 2015.
The Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) also sees a robust Chinese outbound tourism market. Arrivals from China in 30 destinations in Asia Pacific rose more than 20% year-on-year in the first half of 2012.
Tourism venues in Asean remain popular with Chinese visitors. Visitors from China accounted for over 10% of international arrivals in Asean during the first half of 2012, making it the second largest source market behind Singapore.
ATTA said rapid growth and the improving quality of Chinese tourists require tour agencies to compete with service quality in addition to pricing. Almost all travel agencies in Thailand are wooing Chinese tourists because their arrivals have been historically high this year. If there are no serious problems, the number of arrivals will grow much further next year.
"I am worried about huge growth. If the arrivals increase by only 10% it means 3 million Chinese visitors. In fact, we want the number to increase gradually," said Mr Sisdivachr.
Brisk growth could lead to a shortage of tourism facilities and services such as tour guides and coaches. Some popular destinations could become congested.
Besides Bangkok, the favourite destinations of Chinese tourists are Koh Samui, Koh Chang and Phuket. It is necessary for tour operators to promote other destinations like Hua Hin, Cha-am and Krabi.
However, a major obstacle is the limited number of hotel rooms.
"A hotel should have at least 200 rooms to accommodate Chinese tour groups," he said.
Hoteliers who want to tap the market have to do marketing campaigns with travel agents and conduct roadshows to ensure they do not miss any opportunity, Mr Sisdivachr said.
But he cautioned operators to be careful about investing in accommodation since the political situation remains the most important risk factor this year.
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- Writer: Chadamas Chinmaneevong