The tourism sector is almost certain to miss its lower target of 4 million Chinese arrivals, with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) now projecting 3.4-3.5 million tourists from the mainland this year, generating 190-196 billion baht.
The target for Chinese arrivals next year is 8.2 million. The TAT initially set a target in February of 5-7 million Chinese arrivals this year.
Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, the TAT’s deputy governor for international marketing in Asia and South Pacific, said the most recent forecast of 3.4-3.5 million is based on China’s sluggish economy and its pivot to domestic tourism.
Mr Chattan said middle-class Chinese still travel, but with a lower budget.
However, those with high purchasing power can help elevate average spending to 56,000-58,000 baht per trip, up from 50,052 baht recorded in 2019.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand estimates Chinese arrivals will recover to 8.2 million next year.
He said the TAT’s data aligns with Alipay's figures, which found Chinese travellers spent 20,000 baht per trip, excluding accommodation and airfare, up from 11,000 baht per trip in 2019.
The share of independent tourists surged to 86% during the the first half of 2023, up from 61% in 2019, while the average length of stay rose to 7.9 days from 7.5 days, said Mr Chattan.
During the first half of 2023, Thailand claimed the top spot in securing the most Chinese tourists at 3.3% of outbound visitors. However, this data excluded Hong Kong and Macau, which accounted for 78% of arrivals from mainland China.
Japan and Singapore gained a 2.5% and 1.8% market share, respectively.
The top 10 most popular destinations in Thailand were Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Chon Buri, Krabi, Phangnga, Surat Thani, Nong Khai, Prachuap Khiri Khan and Satun.
Mr Chattan said without the visa exemption for Chinese tourists, the country would not be able to sustain the steady flow of 10,000 Chinese arrivals per day.
He said next month, the TAT plans to host a media familiarisation trip, inviting more than 100 Chinese key opinion leaders to explore new activities and destinations, along with testing safety measures for tourists.
Chuwit Sirivejkul, TAT regional director of marketing for East Asia, said recent news reports regarding Chinese street beggars and the shooting incident at Siam Paragon partially affected travel sentiment among Chinese people who have never visited Thailand, most of whom live in second- or third-tier cities.
The TAT estimates Chinese arrivals will recover to 8.2 million next year generating 452 billion baht, driven by an increase in flight capacity and improved economic conditions.
As the government set an ambitious target for international tourism receipts at 2.5 trillion baht next year, Mr Chattan said the agency would focus on driving demand by easing travel measures, focusing on high-spending tourists and extending the length of stay for visitors across all markets.
He said many airlines are preparing to launch more flights from early next year, including Spring Airlines, which expects to operate 74 flights per week between Thailand and China from December, up from 52 flights per week at the moment.