China tops Thailand travel table

BANGKOK, 1 November 2019: International travel to Thailand reached 29.47 million trips, January to September, increasing 3.51% year-on-year, according to the latest data supplied by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports.

Ministry data is based on the headcount at border immigration counters and is widely criticised for not reflecting the country’s real-time tourism performance accurately.

According to the MOTS evaluation, the nine-month data shows foreign visitor arrivals for all travel purposes reached 29,465,732 compared with 28,467, 696 during 2018.

Revenue earned from tourism based on an estimated average spend for each nationality shows the country’s tourism earnings reached 1,429,247.34 million up 3.45% year-on-year.  Foreign tourist receipts make up about 12% of Thailand’s gross domestic product (GDP).

In September alone, arrivals increased 10.11%  year-on-year to  2.9 million tourists who spent THB139.6 billion up 8.73%.

Both hoteliers and tour company executives argue that tourism is down, particularly at beach destinations such as Phuket where hotels are reducing rates in the hope of reversing the slide in bookings.

But in fairness to the ministry, it has to settle for basic data provided by the Immigration Bureau that counts foreigners passing through border checkpoints regardless of their visa status. The travel industry would prefer a measure of arrivals by specific visa categories. In theory, the Immigration Bureau’s data bank records the volume of visitors entering the country on visa-free stays, visa-on-arrival, long-stay or work-related visas or re-entry and land border permits.

Based on the headcount, China continues to lead the top five source markets by a wide margin. Chinese arrivals from January to September surpassed  8.52 million up 1.71% when compared with 8.37 million during the nine months of 2018.

Revenue from Chinese tourist reached an estimated 426,887.60 million up 4.14%.

The headcount gap is massive between first placed China and Malaysia the second-largest source market that clocked 2,900,896 trips an increase of 5.56%.

Third-placed India supplied 1,471,218 visits sporting a solid improvement of 25.60%. South Korea in fourth place delivered 1,399,440 visits up 4.87%, while Laos in fifth place generated 1,386,410 up 12.10%.

MOTS monthly figures for China suggest the market is recovering after big declines in arrivals in 2018. Phuket was particularly hard hit in the aftermath of the 2018 fatal boat accident.

Jing Travel’s half-year 2019 report provides additional observations on China’s outbound travel to Southeast Asia.

“The past year has seen a slew of sociopolitical issues call into question China’s relationship with numerous Western countries. While highlighting the effects of geopolitics upon the tourism industry is typically a secondary concern, for China Travel H1 2019, political issues from the US-China trade dispute to Canada’s diplomatic kerfuffle with Beijing to the ongoing unrest on Hong Kong’s streets have all impacted the flow of the world’s largest outbound market,” the report states.

Commenting on tourism flow from China to destinations in Asia during the first half of they year Jing Travel reports: “Growth across Asia remains fairly stable, although Vietnam and Thailand, two longtime go-to destinations for Chinese travellers saw 3.3% and 8.5 decreases respectively.

“In the case of Thailand, some analysts pointed to blowback from the Phuket boat accident, which killed 41 Chinese tourists.”

Jing Travel’s key takeaway: “Arrivals to Vietnam and Thailand are down, but this may just be because Chinese tourists are visiting new or different Asian destinations.

“Myanmar is experiencing exponential growth at 140%. Japan saw numbers grow 11.7% during  H1 2019, and South Korea seems to be finally recovering from 2017’s tourism ban with a 30% increase.”