Low-cost airlines are ramping up flights to China, although capacity continues to lag the level recorded prior to the pandemic, while the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) doesn't wish to rush into using a visa fee waiver scheme to attract more foreign tourists.
Despite lifting border restrictions since the beginning of this year, which was earlier than expected, the tourism market is expected to only recover to less than 50% of the level seen in 2019, which peaked at roughly 10 million.
TAT governor Yuthasak Supasorn said in addition to the sluggish Chinese economy, the resumption of flights has been a crucial factor for the market as airlines were not able to expand their services due to shortages on the supply side, such as aircraft and maintenance facilities.
He said it might take until October, which is the "Golden Week" holiday for Chinese tourists, to see a surge as airlines are expected to ramp up their services by that time.
From Aug 15, Thai Lion Air is planning to open six new routes to Guangzhou, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Xi'an by using Boeing 737–800 and Boeing 737-900ER aircraft.
At the moment, Thai Lion Air has 15 aircraft in the fleet, consisting of 13 B737-800s and two B737-900ERs.
Thai AirAsia reported an average load factor on Chinese routes at 80% during the first half, from its 13 routes to 12 destinations in China.
The resumption of China routes has been at 70% of the pre-Covid level, but the airline will gradually resume its routes to southern China and hopes to fully recover by the end of this year, both in terms of destinations and frequencies.
At the moment, most of the routes that haven't been retrieved are from regional hubs in Thailand, such as Phuket, Krabi, Chiang Rai and U-Tapao in Chon Buri. Only Chiang Mai currently has direct flights to Beijing and Hangzhou.
Meanwhile, new destinations in China might be added if the market has potential.
In response to tourism operators urging the government to offer a visa fee waiver scheme to stimulate the market, Mr Yuthasak said it might not be the right strategy to revive the sluggish market, given that the main problem now is with the long waiting period during the visa application process.
This scheme also earlier faced questions as to how the price of tour packages would be reduced to benefit tourists, as the TAT once proposed this scheme during the pandemic, but it was rejected by the related authority responsible for this issue.