Chinese holidaymakers are taking their tourist dollars elsewhere after ferry disaster in Thailand that killed 47 earlier this year

  • The Chinese make up about a quarter of Thailand’s 35 million annual visitors, but their numbers are down by up to 20 per cent year on year
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 November, 2018, 4:55pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 November, 2018, 10:51pm

A ferry disaster that killed dozens of Chinese tourists in Thailand earlier this year has sent visitor numbers plunging from the kingdom’s single largest market.

The Chinese make up about a quarter of Thailand’s 35 million annual visitors – drawn by cheap beach holidays, renowned food and Bangkok nightlife.

But in July a ferry carrying mostly Chinese tourists back to the resort island of Phuket sank, killing 47.

August recorded an immediate dip of 12 per cent and September brought 15 per cent fewer Chinese than the same months last year.

October was the hardest hit, with the tourism ministry reporting on Wednesday a same-period decrease of about 20 per cent – or 160,000 people – from 2017. About US$476 million was lost in tourism spending over the three-month period.

Thailand has seen tourism slowdowns before, following a bombing in 2015 in central Bangkok and a military coup in 2014.

But the prolonged slump over the past few months has been a “wake-up call” for Thailand’s tourism operators, Paul Pruangkarn of the Pacific Asia Travel Association said, as it has pushed the sector to mull its overreliance on one country.

“Too many people have always been focusing too much on getting Chinese tourists,” said Pruangkarn, whose association represents hundreds of businesses around the region.

He predicted tourist numbers will ultimately bounce back.

Since the Phuket tragedy, the government has rolled out inducements aimed at regaining trust and making travel easier.

The immigration bureau exempted Chinese tourists from paying a US$60 visa-on-arrival fee from November to mid-January.

Last month, four immigration officials were demoted from their position following an investigation that found they were demanding “tips” from Chinese tourists to fast track their entry.