Thailand can be Chinese shoppers’ paradise

By Liu Zhun Source:Global Times Published: 2013-10-29 19:38:01

During his recent state visit to Thailand, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang mentioned the Chinese movie Lost in Thailand during his address to the Thai parliament. This box-office all-time champion made a record 1.26 billion yuan ($206.89 million) in its booming domestic market. Most of the scenes were shot in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The movie was not referred to on a whim. After the movie became popular, Sarawut Saetiao, president of the Chiang Mai Tourism Business Association, said the number of Chinese tourists soared, with 80 to 90 percent of the city's estimated 40,000 hotel rooms occupied.

The flood of tourists from China did not cease after the movie ended its theater run. Thailand is becoming one of their favorite destinations. In fact, it is an epitome of the swelling bilateral trade between China and Thailand.

Optimism fills the air. As Thailand's second largest trade partner, China has become its largest export market and second largest import market, with a total trade volume of $64.74 billion.

Even more impressive is the increase of Chinese tourists to Thailand. In 2011, the number was 1.9 million, but it soared to 2.7 million in 2012, making China its largest tourism source country. The number continues to climb, with an estimated 4 million Chinese citizens visiting Thailand in 2013.

Apparently, the top leaderships of both countries have been observing this positive trend. During Li's visit, attempts to seek a visa exemption agreement with Thailand were clearly on his agenda. If successful, Thailand would become the first ASEAN country that granted China this treatment, serving as a pioneering example for other countries.

Thai authorities have probably become aware that a golden period of opportunities is at hand.

Bangkok, the country's capital, has beaten London to become the most popular tourist spot in 2013. According to the latest MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index, the city is expected to receive 15.98 million tourists in 2013.

But tourists aren't just flooding into the country because of its delicious spicy food and beautiful Buddhist temples. It is often shopping that is driving the craze.

The capital's luxury malls are massive, and cash-carrying tourists from China are proving to be popular with these luxury retailers.

According to the Thai-Chinese Tourism Alliance, the average Chinese tourist spends $167 each day in Thailand, and most will stay one week.

Last month, it was reported that the Thai government would cut import duties on luxury goods in order to become more competitive compared with countries and regions like Singapore and Hong Kong to woo more wealthy tourists, especially those from the Chinese mainland.

Hong Kong-based newspaper The Standard was concerned with the proposal, with the blaring headline: "Thais declare shopping war."

Although the so-called proposal was soon denied by Thailand's Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong, it showed that Thailand can feasibly transform itself into a paradise for shoppers.

It is very likely that Chinese tourists will become the dominant force in this shopping paradise. Not only will this dominance be reflected in terms of the absolute number of visitors, but it will bring in more profits to its tourism industry, which accounts for about 10 percent of the country's GDP.

Given the fact that Thailand is counting on tourism to counter the ongoing slump in exports and domestic consumption, a practical-minded and open market will add a new catalyst to its economy. China's bullish market can serve as the best backing for the reinvigoration of the kingdom's economy.

Chinese consumers showed their purchasing power to the world in the National Day Holidays in early October. Luxury shopping malls were flooded with Chinese customers during the seven-day vacation, and they, according to the Daily Mail, spent 80,000 pounds ($12,946) on average during the one-week stay.

Thanks to these tourists who enjoy splashing out on expensive goods, the British government is considering simplifying its visa procedures for Chinese tourists.

Thailand could do more to draw more Chinese tourists with fat wallets. Besides more luxury malls and beautiful resorts, exempting visas and scrapping duties on luxury goods deserve consideration.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.

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