China rumors boost tourism sector’s hopes for a bumper Q4

A group of Chinese tourists visit the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand in October 2018. The Association of Thai Travel Agents remains optimistic that tourists will return in the fourth quarter.

The tourism sector is bullish on the Chinese market following hints that outbound travel from the mainland may be permitted in the fourth quarter.

Despite the buoyant mood around this previously crucial market, the Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta) played down the rumour, saying it was too early for the industry to regain hope.

Vichit Prakobgosol, vice president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, said tour operators were abuzz over rumors that the first groups of Chinese tourists in more than two years could be allowed entry during Golden Week, a holiday national in October. These groups would only be allowed if Beijing lifts border restrictions in the fourth quarter.

Tour operators have to wait a few months for confirmation as the virus situation on the mainland remains critical, prompting many cities to put in place strict containment measures and requiring long quarantine periods for those returning from other countries.

“The rumor is quite strong. We hope this good news will come true during Golden Week. We are sure that Chinese demand for Thailand is still huge,” said Mr. Vichit.

While the Chinese market can return later this year, the numbers will not match the 800,000 to 900,000 tourists per month recorded in the past, as airlines first need to gradually increase capacity, he said.

Atta Chairman Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn said it remains difficult to predict the direction of the Chinese government as the country faces a volatile pandemic situation. The scenario may become clearer after the conclusion of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in the fall.

Thai tourism urgently needs the Chinese market as they are year-round travelers, unlike European customers, the key market for Thailand at the moment. European visitors are quite seasonal. However, we should wait and see a clearer statement from Chinese authorities,” Mr. Sisdivachr said.

He said if the reopening forced Chinese returnees to self-quarantine for weeks, it would be hard to hold much hope for that market.

Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), said the TAT had held a meeting with three major Thai travel agents on potential opportunities if China allowed outbound travel in the fourth quarter and that Thailand removes all entry restrictions by July.

He said that after the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration agreed to consider replacing the RT-PCR test on arrival with an antigen test, as well as insurance and Thailand Pass reforms this month, the country will be in a better position to compete globally after losing market share to other nations that have fewer restrictions.

“Assuming most of our entry rules are lifted and the Chinese market can return, we may be able to operate at full capacity for the last three months of this year,” Yuthasak said. “Before the pandemic, we had at least 3 million arrivals per month in the fourth quarter. This year, we could see 30% of that level.”

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