Chinese visitors turn away from Thailand after tourist boat disaster

Phuket and other popular Thai destinations are experiencing a decline in arrivals from their biggest tourism market

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2018, 8:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2018, 10:58pm

A boat accident near Thailand’s Phuket Island that killed 47 Chinese last month is significantly cutting arrival numbers from China, though the Thai tourism industry is hopeful the decline will be stemmed by late this year.

The July 5 capsizing of the Phoenix was Thailand’s worst tourist-related disaster in years. China is Thailand’s biggest source of visitors, and last year accounted for nearly one-third of the record 35.38 million arrivals.

During July, Chinese arrivals fell 0.9 per cent from a year earlier, the first drop since the start of 2017, when the Thai government was cracking down on cheap tour packages from China.

The Thai tourism ministry expects a bigger decline of 14.3 per cent for August.

And the ministry cut its target for Chinese arrivals in July-December by 669,000, or 11.5 per cent, to 5.15 million.

Virat Chatturaputpitak, vice-president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, said he expected numbers to recover during China’s “Golden Week” holiday in October, when many citizens travel en masse.

“They’ll return in October,” he said.

Chinese arrivals in Phuket, a popular island resort, have been affected by the Phoenix disaster.

“This is the lowest point in my 20 years working with the Chinese,” said Apicharn Pasomsap, an airport transfer operator who caters to Chinese tour groups.

“We’re all waiting around for clients that don’t arrive.”

The number of hotel rooms in Phuket taken by Chinese in July and August has been 30 per cent lower than usual, according to the Thai Hotels Association.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand said six Chinese airlines had cancelled a total of 19 flights to Phuket, or about 6 per cent of weekly arrivals.

Phuket boat tragedy could cost Thailand 670,000 Chinese tourists

Zhou Min, 33, an English teacher from China’s Yunnan province, visited Phuket for two days recently, but did not go on the water.

“My husband did not allow me to go out to sea because of the accident and we were a little scared,” she said.

After the disaster, Thai deputy prime minister Prawit Wongsuwan blamed Chinese tour operators for disregarding safety regulations, prompting a backlash from Chinese netizens. He later apologised.

In July, China issued statements reminding outbound tourists to guard against safety risks, with mentions of the Phuket incident.

Thai authorities say they have increased safety checks on boats.

Yuthasak Supasorn, Tourism Authority of Thailand governor, said the boat disaster “has affected our image and what’s most important now is we have to focus on restoring tourist confidence and our safety image”.