Western expats in Pattaya have been wondering, often with some trepidation, when the untold numbers of Chinese vacationers would be returning to refill the resort’s coach-less roads and shuttered cabaret shows. In pre-pandemic 2019, 11 million out of 39 million international leisure visitors were Chinese. But it is looking likely that the locals can rest easy. For now.
This week, Zhang Wenhong, head of Shanghai’s Covid-19 team, said that the Chinese government would not be encouraging overseas tourism until herd immunity had been achieved in China by vaccination. “I think we will have an immune barrier in the spring of 2022 and, then, we will need to communicate with other countries about international tourism.”
So far progress has been slow. Gao Fu, head of China’s Disease Control, said that 142 million first doses had been prepared, but that was still less than 10 percent of the country’s population. He added that there was also strong resistance in China to vaccination, especially amongst the medical profession and highly educated people.
Although China has a largely successful record in restricting the virus, outbreaks are still common. For example, 15 locally-transmitted cases were recently discovered in the south western province of Yunnan. There have also been reports of Covid-19 clusters in food markets of some larger cities.
The likelihood of mass Chinese tourism returning to Thailand has been falsely predicted for the past eight months. Last October, Thailand introduced the Special Tourist Visa (STV) which allowed for vacations of between 90 and 270 days. In October and November there were two flights – some reports said three – to Bangkok from Guangzhou. But the experiment has not been repeated and the STV is generally regarded as heavily bureaucratic and not worth the effort.
Yang Sim, deputy chief of mission at the Chinese embassy in Bangkok, said that most Chinese citizens would be holidaying domestically until the pandemic was under control internationally. Moreover, Bloomberg reported late last year that opinion polls in China suggested that Japan and South Korea had overtaken Thailand in popularity for overseas vacations.
One reason for Thailand’s slide was the 2018 Phuket boat disaster in which 47 Chinese nationals died. Pattaya also experienced several smaller maritime catastrophes in which speedboat and ferry accidents have resulted in Chinese fatalities. Research by Delivering Asia Communications last year suggested that Pattaya was the least-favoured destination of five Thai choices.
For the rest of 2021, it looks like Pattaya’s expats won’t experience serious competition for the deck chairs and noodle shops arranged vacantly on Pattaya and Jomtien beaches. However, 2022 might be a different story.