Chinese buyers gradually cool on Thailand as destination
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Chinese buyers gradually cool on Thailand as destination

Thailand dipped to fifth among destinations for Chinese property buyers, down one spot from last year and the top ranking in 2021, attributed to a sluggish recovery of travel and pricey flights.

Kashif Ansari, co-founder and group chief executive of Juwai IQI Group, a real estate marketing firm targeting the Chinese market, said Chinese buyers with smaller budgets who previously were the key market for Thailand now make up a reduced share of all travellers.

"The pandemic had a devastating impact on outbound travel," he said.

"The rapid annual growth that turned China into the world's most important source of tourists ended in early 2020. But 2023 will be a historic year of recovery."

Thongchai Busrapan, co-chief executive of SET-listed Noble Development, said Chinese customers purchasing condo units still lag the level recorded before the pandemic, but the trend is improving.

"The slowdown among Chinese buyers can be attributed to the limited number of flights to Thailand and more expensive airfares," he said.

"Several of our Chinese customers informed us passport renewal was also difficult."

Noble's condo sales to Chinese buyers in the first half of 2023 decreased to 30% of the total sales to foreign buyers, down from more than half in 2019 and previous years.

Taiwanese buyers overtook Chinese in the top position as they prefer the Thong Lor, Nana and Rama IX areas, said Mr Thongchai.

Before the pandemic, according to Juwai IQI, Chinese tourists were the world's biggest outbound market.

Mainland travellers made 155 million outbound trips and had higher average spending than other nationalities at US$255 billion, accounting for 17% of global outbound travel expenditure.

Chinese accounted for 30% of inbound travellers to Japan and 28% to Thailand, according to UN data.

In Germany, Chinese tourists made up 16% of non-EU visitors.

"Thailand expects at least 5 million Chinese visitors this year, down from about 13 million before Covid-19," said Mr Ansari.

He said Chinese overseas property purchases fell by more than 50% during the pandemic, depending on the destination.

This demonstrated roughly half of the transactions were dependent on being able to travel, said Mr Ansari.

"For this reason, we're tracking the resumption of international travel," he said.

"Where Chinese consumers step off the plane, increased property investment will follow."

According to Juwai IQI, the top five countries this year for Chinese property purchases are Australia, Canada, the UK, the US and Thailand.

The top four are all wealthy Anglophone countries with world-leading educational sectors.

Chinese outbound travel has recovered, but not as fast as many expected.

There is still a shortage of flights, which is keeping fares high. Capacity is only at 37% of pre-pandemic levels.

China's stagnant economic growth and fluctuating property markets are encouraging buyers to look overseas, said Mr Ansari.

The country's upper-middle and high-income households are growing, with an additional 71 million projected by 2025, raising the total to 209 million. This indicates promising long-term demand for Thai tourism and property, he said.

The Chinese also have lots of savings to invest.

In the first nine months of 2022, Chinese savings deposits soared in value by 26.3 trillion yuan (124 trillion baht), according to official statistics.

Immigration is soaring with 712,000 Chinese expats expected in Australia, Canada and the US by 2025.

The US anticipates 3.7 million new migrants by 2025, including 513,000 from China.

Chinese also participate in the most long-term visa programmes, also known as golden visas, with Chinese making up 35% of the 20,844 Thai Elite members as of Oct 1, 2022.

Since borders reopened, traffic from China recovered rapidly, although not as fast as many initially expected.

The biggest stumbling block to a faster recovery is airline seat capacity and ticket prices.

For example, airfare for international routes during the Dragon Boat Festival holiday was double the corresponding period of 2019.

Cross-border travel has recovered to 65% of the level registered in 2019, according to the National Immigration Administration.

Ctrip, a travel service provider in China, reported travel costs have gradually decreased.

For example, one-way air tickets in June cost 6% less than in May. The top destinations were Hong Kong, Macau, Bangkok, Tokyo and Singapore.

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