China visa deal sees bookings rise

China visa deal sees bookings rise

Tour operators sell Songkran packages

Tourists take photos at the Bund, a waterfront area in Shanghai. Popular destinations for Thais in China include Shanghai, Beijing, Kunming, Nanning and Guilin. (Photo: Molpasorn Shoowong)
Tourists take photos at the Bund, a waterfront area in Shanghai. Popular destinations for Thais in China include Shanghai, Beijing, Kunming, Nanning and Guilin. (Photo: Molpasorn Shoowong)

As the permanent visa exemption between Thailand and China takes effect, airlines and tour operators reported a surge of bookings from Thai travellers during the Songkran holiday to May, with some routes containing more Thai passengers than Chinese.

Chotechuang Soorangura, vice-president of the Thai Travel Agents Association, said tour operators have sold more packages to China during Songkran, although not many charter flights are available.

Most outbound tourists are those with high purchasing power who can afford expensive airfares, while budget travellers opt for domestic trips or affordable outbound destinations, such as Vietnam, said Mr Chotechuang.

Unlike with South Korea, there are neither negative reviews about Thais being interrogated by Chinese immigration upon arrival nor deportations. This means the flow of tourists should not be interrupted, he said.

Mr Chotechuang said popular destinations for Thais include Shanghai, Beijing, Kunming, Nanning and Guilin. He said a four-day trip to a popular city such as Kunming costs around 30,000 baht, 15-20% higher than in 2019.

Many tour operators pivoted to Chinese airlines, which offer lower fares than Thai carriers.

Wutthiphum Jurangkool, chief executive of Nok Air, said some Chinese routes had more Thai passengers than Chinese after the mutual visa exemption started on March 1.

Nok Air operates two routes in China -- Nanning and Zhengzhou -- from Bangkok. These areas have attractions well-known to Thai tourists, such as the Shaolin Temple.

Nanjing road, Shanghai. Popular destinations for Thais include Shanghai, Beijing, Kunming, Nanning and Guilin. (Photo: Molpasorn Shoowong)

Meanwhile, the airline's Phuket-Chengdu route operates four flights per week and serves mostly passengers from China, he said.

The average load factor for Chinese routes hovered around 80-85%, said Mr Wutthiphum.

With six Boeing 737-800NG aircraft expected to join its 14-jet fleet this year, Nok Air plans to fly to four more Chinese cities as well as Indian cities other than Hyderabad, he said. For the China routes, Mr Wutthiphum said Thai airlines face pressure from Chinese airlines, which can offer cheaper fares because of financial support from the government.

Inbound arrivals from the mainland remain robust, maintaining a steady flow since Chinese New Year, said Chuwit Sirivejkul, regional director of marketing for East Asia at Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).

Mr Chuwit said roughly 18,000-20,000 Chinese tourists arrive daily, while for the upcoming "summer" season from late March until October, 6.2 million airline seats will be ready to serve the market, about 70% of the seat capacity from the same period in 2019.

The TAT is still optimistic about securing 8 million Chinese tourists this year, as the 2024 projection for overall outbound Chinese trips is 130 million, surging from 87 million trips recorded last year. As of March 3, there were 1.2 million Chinese arrivals in Thailand and 6.7 million total foreign tourists.

During Songkran, the TAT is hosting a special Chinese caravan tour for cross-border travel to the North and Northeast.

Once the fiscal 2024 budget is approved, Mr Chuwit said the TAT will subsidise more charter flights between China and Thailand, particularly during peak holidays such as Labour Day in May and Golden Week in October.

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