Thailand needs to rejig its tourism strategy to reboot the Chinese market as arrivals from the mainland this year are projected to reach only 26.8% of the 2019 level, says a former governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).
Yuthasak Supasorn, a former TAT governor, said the government should focus on negotiating with China to allow more flights and slots for Thai airlines on a fair and equal basis with Chinese airlines.
This will increase the recovery rate and maintain appropriate airfares amid an economic slowdown, he said.
For the cool season, from October 2023 until March 2024, flights between Thailand and China have recovered by 24.3%, with 16,330 flights compared with 67,062 flights in 2019.
As of Nov 20, Chinese arrivals tallied 2.98 million this year, recovering by 26.8% of the 2019 level.
The daily average for Chinese arrivals is 9,196, lagging the 30,000 per day in 2019.
Mr Yuthasak said Thailand needs to resolve claims of tourism scams and fraud if it wants to attract more Chinese tourists. The tourism sector should offer high-quality products and services, while every sector should coordinate to rebuild tourism confidence, he said.
Marketing campaigns should be implemented that utilise key opinion leaders and influencers, said Mr Yuthasak.
After the government granted visa exemptions for Chinese travellers, a total of of 560,870 Chinese arrivals were recorded between Sept 25 and Nov 20.
The scheme helped to increase average arrivals to 15,028 per day, peaking at 18,040 per day on Sept 30, before being disrupted by the Siam Paragon shooting on Oct 3.
From Oct 4 to Nov 20, an average of 9,253 Chinese visited Thailand daily, with the lowest number of 7,837 arrivals on Oct 24.
Passengers are pictured at Suvarnabhumi Airport's new terminal SAT-1. Varuth Hirunyatheb
"Safety concerns play a major role in travellers' decisions," he said.
Mr Yuthasak said negative news about Thailand continued to spread on Chinese social media, fuelled by films about scammer networks in Southeast Asia.
Together with a crackdown on Chinese "grey businesses", these have triggered fears about Thailand turning against China.
However, he said Chinese outbound markets contracted in many Asian tourism locations, not only Thailand.
During the first half of 2023, 40 million Chinese travelled abroad. About 25%, or 10 million, flocked to Macau and Hong Kong.
The Chinese economy has slowed as the real estate sector sags and the unemployment rate remains high. This has resulted in limited spending and shrinking overseas travel demand.
Beijing also pushed its domestic tourism market by offering discounts across 100 cities in China.
Mr Yuthasak said he expects 26.6 million foreign arrivals to Thailand this year.
Chinese tourists feed pigeons while enjoying a sightseeing cruise on the Chao Phraya River in front of Wat Rakhang Khositaram in the capital. Apichart Jinakul