Phuket ferry tragedy prompts talks of pivot from Thailand
Chinese travel agencies are considering redirecting their customers to other countries after the boating tragedy in Phuket, where 44 Chinese tourists died and three are missing.
Ittirit: No cancellations so far
Despite immediate rescue plans and aid from authorities to the victims, including financial remedies, many Chinese expressed their dissatisfaction on social media with the remarks of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who blamed Chinese tour operators for not respecting Thai safety rules and causing the calamity.
Tuesday Gen Prawit apologised for his comments.
Regarding Chinese dissatisfaction, Thai tourism operators said the boating tragedy and concern over traveller safety could lead to big travel agencies in China cancelling trips over the next several months, lowering government projections of up to 10 million Chinese visitors this year and 11 million next.
Ittirit Kinglek, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, said these Chinese companies have sought information from operators in Thailand over progress on the rescue mission and alternatives to Phuket.
He said operators are considering trips to other countries not far from Thailand, while others are looking into local destinations like Koh Samui, Pattaya and Hua Hin.
"Chinese travel operators are discussing their business plans for the next 2-3 months. But there have been no cancellations related to the Phuket incident so far," he said.
Mr Ittirit said Chinese travel firms have shown their intention to move group tours to other places because they feel offended by the deputy prime minister's remarks.
Chinese media and citizens are amplifying that sentiment and subsequent criticism via social media and the situation is not improving, which will hurt the Thai tourism industry, he said.
Supawan Tanomkieatipume, president of the Thai Hotels Association, said the tragedy had already caused distrust among tourists, especially those who plan to visit Phuket.
Individual travellers and tour companies may delay their bookings until they are confident in Thailand's safety measures.
"Tourists who have already booked their packages for Phuket have not made cancellations, but new bookings may be slow," said Mrs Supawan.
Thailand last year welcomed 9.8 million Chinese visitors, making China the biggest source of international arrivals.
In response to the event, the Foreign Affairs Ministry will waive all fees related to the translation of documents and legal services, while the Immigration Office will waive visa fees for the affected tourists.
TAT is monitoring the situation and will provide further details as it develops. In the meantime, the agency has asked travellers to obtain information from various sources to better understand tourism in Thailand.