China no longer Thailand’s top source for tourists due to visa issues, flight availability
Published: Aug 11, 2023 01:13 AM
Chinese tourists visit the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand on Feb. 7, 2022.(Photo: Xinhua)

Chinese tourists visit the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand on Feb. 7, 2022.(Photo: Xinhua)

Due to visa and flight availability issues, China has dropped back as Thailand's top source for tourists. According to data released by Thailand's ministry of tourism and sports on Friday, 1.83 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand in the first seven months of 2023, about 20 percent of the same period in 2019, making China the second-biggest source of visitors. 

In 2012, China surpassed Malaysia for the first time as Thailand's largest source of tourists. Since then, Chinese tourists have been a pillar of Thailand's tourism industry. In 2019, over 11 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand, accounting for more than a quarter of its total overseas tourists. But in the first seven months of 2023, Malaysia surpassed China to become Thailand's biggest source of tourists, according to media reports. 

Thailand had high expectations for welcoming Chinese tourists in the post-epidemic era. Officials predicted there would be 5-7 million travelers in 2023, a recovery to around 64 percent of the pre-epidemic level in 2019, but the new data has cast a shadow over this goal.

To attract more Chinese tourists, the government of Thailand announced on Thursday it would shorten the process of Chinese tourists' visa approval to seven working days. This will facilitate the process, according to deputy government spokeswoman Rachada Dhnadirek.

There are many reasons for the decrease in Chinese tourists traveling to Thailand, but the core issues are visa and flight availability. Currently, flights to Thailand have not yet returned to the pre-epidemic level, said Jiang Yiyi, deputy head of the School of Leisure Sports and Tourism at Beijing Sport University.

According to data released by the Civil Aviation Administration of China, the number of international flights is still recovering slowly. In the first half of 2023, the passenger volume on international routes was only 23 percent of the same period in 2019. 

More and more Chinese tourists are choosing domestic tourism over traveling abroad, and it will take time for them to raise their enthusiasm again for international travel, said Jiang. Compared to the relatively cold outbound travel market, domestic tourism has been recovering fast in the first half of the year.

During the Dragon Boat Festival holidays, a total of 106 million domestic tourism trips were made, up 32.3 percent year-on-year and equivalent to 112.8 percent of the figure in 2019, according to data from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism released on January 24.

Due to the lack of demand for overseas travel during Covid-19, many people's visas and even passports expired, which is also an important reason why there is less international travel now, said Jiang. "Even I didn't renew my passport," Jiang added.

Despite a significant decline in tourist numbers, Thailand remains the top overseas tourist destination for Chinese travelers, according to a report from the China Tourism Academy. With further recovery of the aviation sector, more Chinese tourists are likely to visit Thailand during the coming National Day and Spring Festival holidays, said Jiang.

Global Times