Thai businesses remain optimistic about the outlook for tourism despite the shooting incident at Siam Paragon, but remain wary of unpredictable events.
The tragic incident happened on October 3 when a 14-year-old boy allegedly went on a shooting spree at the upmarket Siam Paragon mall in the heart of Bangkok. Two women — a Chinese tourist and a Myanmar national — lost their lives, while five people were injured.
The shooting incident was not only covered extensively by local media, but also drew a lot of public interest in China where many use Weibo, a Chinese social media platform to share information and debate issues.
Observers fear that it could potentially affect the tourism industry, as Chinese tourists might be concerned about public safety in Thailand.
The president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, holds a different point of view. “The shooting incident did not adversely impact tourism once it became known that a boy was allegedly responsible for the unexpected act,” he said.
He said Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin had handled the situation very well, as he quickly explained the incident to the Chinese ambassador to Thailand.
Sisdivachr is optimistic that the number of tourists will hit the target of 25 million this year, or even rise to as high as 28-29 million.
Thaneth Tantipiriyakij, the president of the Phuket Tourist Association, shared a similar view, saying that the mall shooting had not impacted the tourism sector.
Free visa scheme
A temporary tourist visa exemption granted to Chinese nationals boosted tourist arrivals during the long golden week holidays in China from October 1-8, said Thaneth.
More Chinese visitors are expected to visit during the high season later this year and early next year.
The visa exemption scheme for the citizens of China and Kazakhstan runs from September 25, 2023 to February 29, 2024. During the five-month visa exemption period, Thailand is expected to welcome 1.9 million to 2.9 million Chinese tourists – a year-on-year growth of about 41-62 per cent – and generate tourism income of around 92-140 billion baht.
Thailand has forecast 129,485 arrivals from Kazakhstan, a 49.73 per cent increase over the same period last year, generating 7.93 billion baht in revenue, according to Tourism and Sports Minister Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol.
Thaneth, however, is cautious that there are also uncertainty factors that could potentially impact tourism. “We don’t know what the Chinese government’s policy would be, as we had earlier witnessed during a road show in February that the government preferred its people travel within the country,” said Thaneth.
“There have also been reports that Chinese authorities are not giving fast approvals for extension of passports that have expired,” he said.
“The high price of air tickets also is an area of concern. We have seen a sharp increase in air fares for direct flights from China to Phuket Island after the Thai government announced in September the visa exemption for Chinese tourists,” said Thaneth.
China’s economic slowdown also will be a factor in the outlook for Thailand’s tourism. Lately, the International Monetary Fund has revised down its economic growth forecast for China in 2023 to 5 per cent from 5.2 per cent.
Due to many factors, the recovery rate of Chinese tourists is less than 30 per cent of the pre-COVID-19 period.
Chinese tourists accounted for 11 million of the total 39.8 million foreigners who visited Thailand in 2019. This year, Thailand expects around 4.4 million Chinese tourists, just 40 per cent of the pre-pandemic peak.
TAT remains upbeat
Meanwhile, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) appeared less concerned about any adverse impact from the shooting incident.
Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, deputy governor for International Marketing – Asia and the South Pacific, consulted with the private sector, such as airlines and tour agencies, and was confident that the shooting incident would not deter Chinese tourists from visiting Thailand.
The government has been able to regain visitor confidence after the incident, he said. The proof is seen in the fact that on average 7,000-8,000 Chinese tourists enter Thailand every day.
TAT expects 4 million to 4.4 million Chinese tourists, making a total of 25-30 million visitors in total this year, bringing in 2.38 trillion baht in revenue.
From January 1 to September 10, Thailand recorded 2.3 million Chinese visitors, making China the second biggest tourist market after Malaysia. Without the visa exemption scheme, Thailand was expected to receive 3.5 million Chinese visitors in 2023 – about 31 per cent of the number in 2019 – generating 174.4 billion baht, according to the TAT.
By Thai PBS World’s Business Desk