Thailand is top Asia-Pacific tourist stop thanks to Chinese

Chinese tourists receive massages at a beauty parlor in Bangkok Thailand September 25, 2015. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Chinese tourists can’t seem to get enough of Thailand, with visitor numbers to the Southeast Asian kingdom surging over the past year at one of the fastest clips in the Asia-Pacific region.

In a year that saw the Thai military government grapple with an outbreak of the deadly flu-like MERS virus as well as the bombing at a major shrine, Chinese tourists helped turn Bangkok into the region’s most-visited destination in 2015, according to the first-ever MasterCard Asia Pacific Destinations Index published on Wednesday.

All three Thai destinations in the 10 most-visited list - Phuket was ranked fifth, Pattaya eighth - recorded more than 10 percent year-on-year growth in international arrivals, outpacing other locations like Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, which were at No.2 and No.4, respectively.

In 2016, the Thai government expects Chinese visitors to make up a larger proportion of the record 32 million people forecast to visit. “What’s ultimately driving Thailand is the Chinese,” said Matthew Driver, MasterCard’s Asia-Pacific group executive for products and solutions, told Reuters.

The survey ranked 167 islands, towns and cities in 22 countries across the Asia-Pacific. Japanese destinations recorded the fastest growth in 2015, the index also showed, as the weaker yen continued to attract Chinese tourists in droves. Tokyo was the second-most visited city, with Osaka rounding off the top 10.

Editing by Ryan Woo