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Thai Tour Operators Despair Amidst Major Lull in Tourism from China

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BANGKOK – Tourism operators used to Chinese arrivals are close to laying off staff or even shutting down operations if arrivals from the mainland fail to bounce back soon.

Several businesses related to tourism, such as restaurants, souvenir shops and rental bus companies, have been suffering from lower Chinese tourist arrivals, said Ronnarong Chewinsiriamnuai, president of the Thai-Chinese Tourism Alliance Association.

Mr Ronnarong said some travel firms have already reduced working hours of staff, with many asking tour guides to stay home because of the lack of customers.

He said rental bus companies have also felt the pinch, as drivers and staff are earning less in payment and tips.

Normally each bus driver earns about 30,000 baht a month, but now they are making 7,000-8,000 baht, Mr Ronnarong said.

Chiang Rai and other provinces in the North have suffered after many mainland travel companies reportedly removed Thailand as an option for this high season.

“Tourism is a seasonal business,” he said. “If there is no business during peak season, we may be unable to stay open, which of course hurts our employees.”

There were 345 Thai-Chinese tour operators registered with the Tourism Department last year that hired tour guides.

Manop Sae-jia, president of the Rak Lanna Tourists Guide Club, predicted that Chinese tourist arrivals to Thailand would continue to fall over the remaining two months this year through the first quarter 2019.

Mr Manop said Chiang Rai and other provinces in the North have suffered after many mainland travel companies reportedly removed Thailand as an option for this high season.

“There are no bookings from China this November, which is very unusual,” he said.

Mr Manop said Chinese tourists are still worried about safety and security, especially after 47 Chinese passengers were killed in a boat accident off Phuket in July.

Since the incident, arrivals from the mainland dropped by nearly 12% in August and 15% in September with no signs of recovery, according to figures from the Tourism and Sports Ministry.

The situation prompted hundreds of members of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta) to meet yesterday to discuss solving the situation.

Atta president Vichit Prakobkosol estimated that Thailand would lose 300,000 Chinese tourists in the final quarter this year and an additional 700,000 in the first three months next year.

The revenue loss may top 50 billion baht from October to next March, Mr Vichit said.

Tourists who come with Atta member companies, mostly Chinese, declined by 22.1% year-on-year in July and by 36.4% and 39.1% in August and September. During Oct 1-23, tourists arriving with Atta member companies plunged 31.3%.

Mr Vichit said Atta was forced to cut its forecast for international arrivals this year from 12 million to 10.5 million.

The association plans to meet with Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat next week.

Mr Vichit said Atta will urge the government to waive visa-on-arrival fees for 21 countries, including China, for November and December this year, including six-month multiple-entry visas for Chinese tourists from November.

By Suchat Sritama
Bangkok Post