Located on the Andaman Sea and known for its beaches and nightlife, sun-drenched Phuket was the most visited destination in the country last year after Bangkok and a good gauge of the state of its crucial travel industry.
Tourism accounts for 18% of Thailand’s gross domestic product and Chinese holidaymakers make up more than a quarter of total arrivals.
But while 2.2 million people from the country visited in 2018, according to official figures, numbers for January-September were down almost a fifth on-year.
Claude de Crissey, Honorary Consul of France in Phuket and owner of about 40 rooms in the popular Patong Beach area, said Chinese tourists are usually present even during the current low season.
“That was not the case this year,” he said, adding he had to lower his prices by as much as 50%.
The problem is not just in Phuket, with hotels also struggling to fill rooms in Pattaya on the mainland and Koh Samui island.
Trade tensions with the US have already made some Chinese reluctant to take holidays owing to uncertainty back home, while the Thai baht has risen around 10% against the yuan this year.
A boating disaster off Phuket’s coast that killed 47 Chinese holidaymakers has also scared some off.
“We are worried,” an industry insider said, declining to be named due to the sensitivity of the topic in a country where tourism provides tens of thousands of jobs.
Still, tourism authority chairman Yuthasak Supasorn said he remained “optimistic”, adding: “We should reach our goal of 39.8 million foreign visitors this year”.
Now hoteliers and tour package operators are targeting visitors from elsewhere, particularly India, which experts see as a huge untapped market.
“We are counting on the Indians to revive the sector,” an official said. — AFP
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