China rumours raise tourism sector's hopes for bumper Q4
Industry hopes first restrictions might be lifted in time for Golden Week in October
The tourism sector is upbeat about the Chinese market following hints emerging that outbound trips from the mainland might be allowed in the fourth quarter.
Despite the buoyant mood around this previously crucial market, the Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta) played down the rumour, saying it was too soon for the sector to get its hopes up.
Vichit Prakobgosol, vice-president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, said tour operators are abuzz about rumours that the first Chinese tour groups in over two years may be allowed in during Golden Week, a national holiday in October. These groups would only be allowed if Beijing lifts border restrictions in the fourth quarter.
Tour operators have to wait a few months for confirmation as the viral situation on the mainland remains critical, prompting many cities to implement stringent lockdowns and requiring lengthy quarantine periods for those returning from other countries.
"The rumour is quite strong. We hope this good news becomes a reality during Golden Week. We're confident that Chinese demand for Thailand is still enormous," said Mr Vichit.
If the Chinese market can return later this year, the numbers will not match the 800,000 to 900,000 tourists per month as tallied in the past because airlines have to gradually increase capacity first, he said.
Atta president Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn said it remains difficult to predict the direction of the Chinese government as the country faces a volatile pandemic situation. The scenario might become clearer following the conclusion of the Chinese Communist Party's 20th National Congress in the autumn.
"Thai tourism is in dire need of the Chinese market as they are year-round travellers, unlike European guests, the key market for Thailand at the moment. European visitors are rather seasonal. However, we should wait and see for a clearer statement from Chinese authorities," said Mr Sisdivachr.
He said if the reopening required Chinese returnees to quarantine for weeks, it would be hard to have much hope for this market.
Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), said the TAT held a meeting with three big Thai travel agents about potential opportunities if China allows outbound trips in the fourth quarter and Thailand removes all entry restrictions before July.
He said after the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration agreed to consider changing the RT-PCR test on arrival to an antigen test, along with insurance and Thailand Pass reforms this month, the country will be in a better position to compete globally after losing market share to other nations that have fewer restrictions.
"Assuming most of our entry rules are lifted and the Chinese market can return, we may be able to run at full speed for the last three months this year," Mr Yuthasak said. "Prior to the pandemic, we had at least 3 million arrivals a month in the fourth quarter. This year we may see 30% of that level."