Fewer Chinese expected in Thailand this year

Chinese visitors are shown here visiting a Thai temple.

Hopes that Thailand might reach its goal of 30 million foreigners by the end of 2023 have been dashed by fewer-than-expected Chinese arrivals. Inbound arrivals from China are expected to reach no more than 5 million rather than the 7 million anticipated earlier by the Thai tourist ministry. The likely figure now is 26 million which is still more than double the figures for 2022.

Economist Barnabas Gan, from RHB Banj Bhd, said the main reason was the slowdown in the deflating Chinese economy and the rise in unemployment, especially of young graduates and professionals. In the property sector, giant company Country Garden missed a bond payment, leading to concerns domestically. China now has an excess of homes, mostly in condominiums, and property prices are falling.

Smaller factors influencing fewer Chinese arrivals in Thailand are said to be bureaucratic delays in Thai consulates issuing short-term visas, as well as slowness by Beijing authorities replacing passports which became out of date during the pandemic. Political turbulence in Thailand and the failure to form a new government post-election may have persuaded some Chinese tourists to visit neighboring countries such as Cambodia or Vietnam.

Meanwhile, the Thai tourist authority is opening new offices abroad, particularly in the Middle East, to encourage newer markets and to make up for a Chinese shortfall. Some observers say that the importance of the Chinese market can be exaggerated as most Chinese come to Thailand in zero-sum tour groups where all expenses are paid in advance prior to departure. So the financial benefits are mostly limited to the tour organizers and their partners.