BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand is set to see a jump in visitors from China during the “Golden Week” holidays this week due to relaxation of visa rules and as safety worries after a boat accident last year recede, industry executives said.
While a recent rebound in the number of visitors from China, Thailand's biggest source of tourists, is encouraging for the industry, its outlook is weighed by China's slowing economy and a strong baht THB=TH, they said.
Chinese tourists accounted for about 27% of Thailand’s record 38.3 million arrivals last year, and tourism is a key driver of growth in Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.
About 250,000 Chinese tourists are expected to come to Thailand during the long break from October 1 to 7, said Vichit Prakobgosol, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA).
That would be a jump of 38% from the 181,000 Chinese tourists who visited Thailand during the break last year. A boat accident in July 2018 off its resort island of Phuket that killed 47 Chinese tourists dampened arrivals due to safety concerns.
“Compared with last year, we should see a big jump. Visa fee waivers are also helping,” said Vichit.
Thailand has tried to lure back Chinese holidaymakers and to boost the overall sector by waiving visa fees paid by visitors from several countries, including China.
(GRAPHIC - Thailand's total foreign tourists and Chinese tourists: here)
Supawan Tanomkieatipume, president of the Thai Hotels Association, also expects more than 200,000 Chinese visitors during the break, though hotel bookings remain low.
“There are not many bookings from China yet, probably because the Chinese economy is not that good,” she said.
Also, many tourists don’t book hotels long in advance, while the strong baht may be a concern for some, she added.
The baht is Asia’s best performing currency this year, up 6% against the dollar. It was at 30.64 per dollar on Tuesday.
“If it breaks 30, tourism will be bad,” ATTA’s Vichit said.
However, he predicts 11 million Chinese tourists this year, up from 10.5 million last year.
Kasikorn Research Center said the number of Chinese tourists is on recovery after hitting a million in August, while Hong Kong’s riots could turn more visitors to Thailand.
The government believes higher Chinese visitors will help the number of overall foreign arrivals reach its target of 40 million this year, said government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat.
Editing by Kay Johnson and Muralikumar Anantharaman