Subdued Chinese New Year anticipated

Subdued Chinese New Year anticipated

Beijing maintains strict measures restricting people's movements.

People walk under decorative Chinese lanterns on sale on Yaowarat Road, Bangkok's Chinatown.
People walk under decorative Chinese lanterns on sale on Yaowarat Road, Bangkok's Chinatown.

A tour company believes this year's Chinese New Year is likely to be quietest in years, right across the globe.

Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, managing director at Quality Express Co, a Bangkok-based tour company, expects a subdued holiday.

According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, tourism revenue during Chinese New Year between 2016-2019 grew consecutively, with a leap to 13.9 billion baht in 2019.

Of that amount, 9.22 billion baht came from international tourists, with an average of 2 billion baht per year from 2016-2018.

Most visitors came from mainland China, a market that has only two major holidays per year: Lunar New Year in February and national holidays in October.

The depressing prospects for inbound tour operators this year are probably not as surprising as last October, when the Chinese government moved to strictly prohibit its nationals from making outbound trips during the so-called "Golden Week" holiday period.

That strong stance remains unchanged for Chinese New Year next week as a recurrence of coronavirus infections in some Chinese provinces prompted the Chinese authorities to further extend the strict measures.

Mr Sisdivachr, a former president at the Association of Thai Travel Agents, said the crisis this time differs greatly from the situation last year.

"Guests decreased in the past due to political turmoil, because of accidents or natural disasters, but never did we experience a situation when the number of visitors reached zero," he said.

'"We have faced a string of critical impacts previously, but at least there were still some tourists coming to the country, which helped us survive because of their steady stream of spending. This time many tour operators may have to bid farewell."

Mr Sisdivachr said the restrictions put in place by Beijing are something the tourism industry just has to accept.

With mass vaccination plans in the pipeline, it is likely the market will resume next year, he said.

"The harder question to answer is when will tourists come back. We can make forecasts, but let's not put too much faith in them," said Mr Sisdivachr.

Although there is likely to be significant progress in the vaccination situation in China and most parts of the world by the second half, many challenging factors still lie ahead, such as questions in some quarters over the efficacy of vaccines, meaning it might take longer to convince people to travel again.

The Thai government announced an additional holiday on Feb 12 in the hopes of spurring domestic tourism, but this move may not be fruitful, he said.

Nuntaporn Komonsittivate, head of commercial operations at Thai Lion Air, said the airline's revenue stream during the Chinese New Year period was always driven by foreign visitors rather than locals.

Last year the signs were discouraging as the virus emerged during the festival's peak period.

Ms Nuntaporn said the airline learned from the past year it should not pin its hopes on external markets this year because there are too many uncertainties, such as the distribution of vaccines and entry regulations for those who have received vaccines, which have yet to be decided upon.

"We have to continue promoting the domestic market as it's our last reliable resort," she said.

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