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A Million Chinese Tourists and Counting: Thailand’s 2023 Travel Boom
Published: May 30, 2023 at 5:37 pm
Since the start of the year, Thailand has just welcomed its one-millionth tourist from China, signifying another move forward for the resurgence of the country’s vital tourism sector.
The Bangkok Post announced yesterday that government spokesperson Anucha Burapachaisri declared the country had registered one million Chinese arrivals between January and May 18. He added that the government hoped to attract 5 million Chinese travelers by 2023, which would generate a projected 446 billion baht in revenue ($13.18 billion).
This achievement is a result of the hard work of all agencies that participated in the country’s initiatives to gain back the trust of international tourists and our reputation as one of the world’s most popular tourism destinations, Anucha told the Post.
The COVID-19 pandemic almost destroyed Thailand’s tourism industry. While the country was able to contain the initial COVID-19 outbreak with relative success, the closures and collapse in international travel ruined the country’s tourism sector. International visitor arrivals fell from a record 40 million in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic, to 6.7 million in 2020 and then to a meager 428,000 in 2021.
Given the significance of tourism to the Thai economy – the industry generates an estimated 20% of the country’s GDP and aids hundreds of thousands of livelihoods, announcements regarding tourist numbers are eagerly awaited and closely examined.
This recent announcement points out that Thailand’s tourist sector is nearing pre-pandemic levels following its full international reopening last July. The one million Chinese tourists were among the 9.47 million foreign tourists who visited Thailand between January and mid-May. The government anticipates 25 million international tourists in 2023, compared to the record-breaking 40 million who came in 2019, the last full year before the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2022, there were 11.15 million international tourists, surpassing the government’s target of 10 million. Malaysia, India, and Singapore represented the top three countries of origin.
The tourist industry, which accounts for approximately one-fifth of Thailand’s GDP, contributed to a greater-than-anticipated growth of 2.7% in the initial quarter of 2023.
However, Chinese tourist arrivals have recovered much more slowly than the Thai tourism industry as a whole. This is primarily attributable to Beijing’s strict “Zero Covid” policy, which until January made outbound international travel time-consuming and expensive. According to Reuters, only 274,000 Chinese visitors visited Thailand in 2022. In 2019, they comprised approximately 28%, or 11 million, of all international visitor arrivals. Even with this year’s recovery, they represent only about 10.5% of arrivals so far.
The Thai Tourism Authority, unwilling to rest on its merits, has launched the “Trust Thailand” campaign in an effort to bring back the Chinese love affair with the country. In accordance with the campaign, the Bangkok Post announced yesterday that “60 Chinese leaders of opinion, members of the press, other associated businesses, and airlines, will be invited to come to the kingdom in an effort to promote Thailand as a premier travel destination further.”
While it is uncertain if or when Thailand’s tourism industry will surpass its 2019 peak, Chinese tourist arrivals are likely to continue to increase substantially through the end of the year.
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