Consumer spirits down in September
Consumer confidence fell for the first time in four months in September, as people were more concerned about the impact of higher oil prices, relatively low farm prices, an escalating international trade row and the slow pace of economic growth.
The latest survey by the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC) found that the consumer confidence index in September dipped to 82.3 from 83.2 in August. It was 82.2 in July and 81.3 in June.
The decline stemmed from a number of negative factors that could lead consumers to be more cautious in their spending through the final quarter of the year, said Thanavath Phonvichai, vice-president for research at UTCC.
He cited negative factors such as rising oil price, low farm prices for many products such as rice, corn, oil palm and rubber, and the mounting trade spat between China and the US.
Consumers, particularly in the southern, eastern and central regions, where the local economy is closely linked to tourism, felt their purchasing power wane in line with a sharp drop in Chinese tourists, Mr Thanavath said.
More importantly, people are watching the political situation as the general election nears.
"Higher global oil prices have a psychological impact on consumer spending, be it the house or car purchase, or travelling," Mr Thanavath said.
In a related development, the university's survey forecast consumer spending during the annual vegetarian festival, which runs from Oct 9 to 17, at 45.9 billion baht, up 1.9% from the previous year's level.
The growth rate would be the lowest rate in five years, during which time the rate has averaged 2%. The survey blamed rising oil prices.
Mr Thanavath said the university will closely monitor economic performance in November, which kicks off the annual high season for tourism.
The hope is that Chinese tourists will come back and the government will speed up spending on megaprojects.
The government itself is stepping up efforts to woo back Chinese tourists after a series of high-profile incidents cast Thailand in a negative light.
One of the measures suggested by the tourism and sports minister, Weerasak Kowsurat, for cabinet approval is granting Chinese tourists double-entry visas over a six-month period.
Mr Weerasak on Monday met representatives from private tourism organisations and travel agencies to discuss the recent drop in Chinese tourist numbers and strategies to draw them back to Thailand ahead of the high season.
He said the private sector has voiced concerns that foreign visitors, especially from China, might not visit this year because of the recent incidents.
On July 5, the Phoenix tour boat capsized off Phuket, killing 47 Chinese passengers.
On Sept 20, a Chinese woman was found dead at the popular Ton Nga Chang waterfall in Songkhla's Hat Yai district, in a case police are treating as a murder.
A week later, a video went viral of a Chinese tourist quarrelling with a Don Mueang airport security guard, who was seen to throw a punch at the man.
The latest case prompted Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to offer an apology for the incident and promise to send a letter to the tourist himself via the Chinese embassy.
Nonetheless, Mr Thanavath said the long-awaited general election is expected to drive economic growth in the fourth quarter, leading GDP to increase by an average of 4.5-4.6% this year.