Thailand gains a Golden Week reprieve

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BANGKOK, 11 October 2018: China’s Golden Week holiday travel to Thailand turned out marginally positive according to the Ministry of Tourism and Sports.

Presenting a post Golden Week assessment, the ministry’s permanent secretary, Pongpanu Svetarundra, said 180,907 Chinese visited Thailand during the 1 to 7 October holiday.

He said it represented a 2.77% improvement when compared with the same holiday week in 2017. The holiday is linked to China’s National Day celebrations, 1 October.

His assessment flew in the face of estimates by hotel executives, particularly in Phuket where bookings appeared to be down by 50% for the first week of October.

Ministry estimates placed tourism spending at THB10,205 million, an increase of 4.82% when compared with the same holiday week last year.

While admitting the growth rate was down on what the country had enjoyed over the first six months, a 2.77% improvement during the first week of October came as a relief to officials considering the volume of negative publicity in China that cast doubts on Thailand’s ability to provide a secure environment for holiday makers.

Travel experts said Thailand’s ability to capture the China market and remain the top destination in Southeast Asia was critically eroded by the Phuket boat tragedy in early July and compounded by a video clip of a security guard assaulting a Chinese tourist at a Bangkok airport. Officials demanding a THB300 tip for processing a visa-on-arrival was also cited as damaging the country’s image.

Thailand’s local press feared China had waved a yellow card, but the warning fell short of a red card that would have obliged China’s tour companies to suspend holiday travel sales to Thai destinations. Fortunately fears failed to materialise and officials reported a positive Golden Week.

The ministry’s permanent secretary said the Golden Week performance was “satisfactory considering the tourism trends in other country markets.

Malaysia’s tourism officials said Golden Week travel was down by an estimated 30%. In 2017, the same holiday week generated 180,000 trips. Malaysia was targeting 3 million visits from China this year, but officials admit that is now unlikely.

He argued that neighbour Vietnam had seen a contraction of 1.65% in Chinese tourist arrivals during August when compared with the same month in 2017. However, the decline was in fact 0.7% according to Vietnam’s Government Statistics Office data.

But he was spot on that Thailand could take some solace from the news that the China-US trade war has drastically cut travel to the US.

A Jing Travel report on Golden Week travel, posted Tuesday, concluded that Golden Week travel grew dramatically, but the US was the one destination that seriously missed out. It noted that bookings to the US could have dropped by over 40% compared with last year.

The main culprit is increased tension between the United States and China, although a weaker yuan likely contributed to some extent.

“Unfortunately, there isn’t much the United States tourism industry can do to reverse this decline,” the Jing Travel report explained. “Nationalism has a big impact on where Chinese tourists choose to go, and right now the Chinese government has stepped up its media campaign against what it sees as an aggressive US government. Boycotting destinations seen as anti-Chinese is common in the Chinese tourism market during high-profile diplomatic disputes.”

The tourism news and luxury commerce site noted that “full numbers for international travel are still not available”, but domestic data has been released by China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

“Overall, domestic tourism was up by 9.43% during the holiday travel period that lasted from October 1 to 7. In total, over 700 million domestic trips were made.”

The study concluded that International destinations reported dramatic growth and according to Trip.com, Japan was the top destination for Chinese tourists during the holiday.”

In Thailand, Pongpanu said the ministry had monitored a shift from package holidays to independent travel bookings from China at a ratio of 70:30 (independent to package holidays) compared to a ratio of 60:30 a year earlier.

To tackle the issue of security at tourist destinations the Ministry of Tourism and Sports will organise a series of security workshops in the country mainly to raise awareness about the upgrade of the country’s tourism safety standards that will come into effect 18 October.

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