Chinese tourists seen as a driving force for change

CHINESE tourist arrivals have and will play greater role in the major changes of the Thai tourism regulations as well as the push for developing a cashless society in the foreseeable future, an expert says.

While the recent tragic boat accidents in Phuket where over 40 Chinese tourists have died would have quite significant impact on the Thai tourism industry, at least in the short term, it would be an expensive lesson learned by Thailand as tourism revenue has and long been the bread and butter for the growth of its economy.

According to statistics, Chinese tourists accounted for nearly one-third of last year’s record 35 million arrivals.

Thai authorities are now worried following the massive cancellations of hotel room bookings by Chinese tourists in the southern island resort of Phuket following the tragic July 5 boat accident.

So far, 7,400 Phuket hotel room bookings for this and next month have been cancelled by Chinese tourists. Chinese account for around three million tourists in Phuket alone per year, while on average some ten million Chinese tourists visit Thailand every year.

Kongsak Kupongsakorn, president of the Southern Hoteliers’ Association, told the press 19 member hotels had already reported their cancellations while another 160 hotels have yet to file their reports.

A well informed source said the cancellation would not have been that high if Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan did not make negative comments on the boat tragedy. He blamed Chinese tour operators for not respecting Thai safety legislation, saying some Chinese used Thai nominees to bring Chinese tourists in and they did not heed authorities’ warnings about the bad weather which is why this incident happened.

After his comments backfired with lots of the Chinese reacting angrily online, Mr Prawit came out to issue an apology, saying: “Something wrong is one thing. Rescuing people is another. If my words offended some people, I would like to apologize.”

At this stage, hotel room cancellations are estimated to account for 10-15 per cent of the total business in the world-renowned resort province.

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Phuket Governor Napat Prodthong now wants the government to set up a command center to regulate all Andaman Sea tourist activities in the nearby Phang Nga province. Inspection points for all incoming and outgoing vessels would help the authorities more effectively enforce safety and related laws on vessel operators, captains, passengers and crew.

The government will also revamp safety rules and regulations to prevent future accidents.

At a seminar organized by the Bank of Ayudhya (Krungsri) over the weekend for its wealth clients, a speaker pointed out that Chinese tourists now play a crucial role in many countries not only Thailand as they help stimulate economic growth in those countries.

There is a tendency that more tourists would travel the world in the next few years as the number of Chinese having passports is still very low compared to the total population.

Forbes reported that Chinese tourists dropped $165 billion in the countries they visited in 2014, according to data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization, up 27% over the previous year. That’s $54 billion more than the $111 billion that American travelers spent outside the States to place second on the list of foreign travel big spenders, up a relatively modest 6.7% over 2013.

Only about 6% of China’s citizens possess a passport, versus 46% of Americans who own a passport.  That 6% of 1.36 billion equals a lot of Chinese who can travel beyond their borders – 81.4 million of them.

The speaker said now the figure of Chinese passport holders may be at close to 10% or over 100 million people.  “That would mean a lot to us if the number of Chinese passport holders jumped to 20%.”

Korn Chatikavanij, former Finance Minister and Chairman of the Thai FinTech Club, also said at the seminar China is now a leader in the so-called cashless society.

“I went to Tianjin waiting in a queue to pay for goods and saw no one paying in cash except me.  I just wondered at that time whether they would accept cash from me.”

He said with more Chinese tourists coming to Thailand it would help pushing Thai entrepreneurs and banks to adjust themselves more quickly into a cashless society.

An observer said now if one goes to malls like Siam Paragon, where lots of Chinese tourists frequent, shops at food malls have devices which can receive payments from cash cards like Alipay or Rabbit.

Siam Paragon has even install a cashless channel at its supermarket where there is no cashier as shoppers can handle everything, including payment, via cash cards themselves.


Top: Tourists having fun with a small elephant at a Phuket beach. Photo: Isabelle Acatauassú Alves Almeida (CC-BY-2.0)

In-text: A sign at Siam Paragon supermarket’s cashless channel.

By Kowit Sanandang