Chinese tourists drive Thais nuts, but money is money

  • People
  • Monday, 30 Mar 2015

When a Thai model’s recent Facebook post showing how a horde of Chinese tourists rudely jumped the queue in front of her at an airport, it only served to add more fuel to the already blazing public outrage in Thailand surrounding the issue of Chinese tourists misbehaving.

But with Thailand struggling to revive a stagnant economy after a military coup ended months of political unrest last year, tour operators in the Land of Smiles say they have no choice but to grin and bear it.

Tourism accounts for nearly 10% of the country’s economic output and Chinese holidaymakers are Thailand’s largest group of overseas visitors. It took a hammering during months of protests last year that saw parts of Bangkok shut down, during which many countries issued warnings against non-essential travel to Thailand.

But the Chinese market was one of the first to bounce back, says Srisuda Wanapinyosak, Executive Director of East Asia Region at the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). According to TAT, over 560,000 Chinese tourists visited Thailand in January, accounting for over a fifth of tourist arrivals, according to the tourism ministry. That was up nearly 60% on the year.

It is not just Chinese tourists that Thailand is wooing: China is a top trading partner. The government has sought to strengthen ties with Beijing ever since some Western countries downgraded diplomatic ties when the military seized power last year.

Raising revenue from tourism is a government priority to compensate for weak exports, says Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd, the country’s deputy government spokesman. Thailand, therefore, has to tolerate bad behaviour for the sake of its vital tourist industry, he says.

“We have to endure because having tourists is better than having no tourists at all,” says Sansern. “Our exports are dependent on the economic situations of other countries. So we are focusing on tourism. This is something we can control.”

At the Erawan shrine in the heart of bustling downtown Bangkok, Kanlaya Yimpreeda, 29, a garland vendor, reels off a list of complaints about Chinese visitors. “I recently saw a Chinese couple take their kids’ underwear off so he could pee near the shrine,” she says, a look of horror on her face. “Right there in the corner next to one of Bangkok’s holiest places.”

Korn Ornprasert, a veteran tour guide, says he prefers guiding visitors from elsewhere. “They have no discipline. They throw cigarette butts and spit in public,” says Korn. “I would rather give a tour to other nationalities than to mainland Chinese.”

How much more?

China is acutely aware of its tourists’ image abroad and in January started work on a national database to help rein in some of its unruly sightseers and monitor the behaviour of habitual offenders. But most Chinese travellers aren’t really bothered.

China’s Mei Zhang, 39, on a five-day tour of Thailand, says she was unperturbed by the way her countrymen are perceived. “We have a bad reputation abroad but people probably said the same thing about Japanese and, before them, Americans. When there are many tourists coming from one country it is easy to criticise.”

Considering all the pros and cons, Sansern says both countries needed to be flexible: “We as the housekeeper have to adapt and our house guests have to adapt.” It remains to be seen how much the Thais are willing to bend over for their unruly yet wealthy guests. – Reuters

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