The key figures also say that Phuket was already experiencing a huge drop in the number of Chinese tourists coming to the island despite the number of Chinese tourists coming to Thailand still growing – highlighting a major shift that was already underway before the Phoenix tour boat disaster on July 5 that killed 47 Chinese tourists.
The news follows the Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta) predicting that Thailand will 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 B50 billion from October this year to next March, said Atta President Vichit Prakobkosol.
Mr Vichit told The Phuket News this week that tourist arrivals to Thailand through Atta-member companies declined by 22.1% year-on-year in July and by 36.4% and 39.1% in August and September, respectively.
The member companies tourists are mostly Chinese.
During the three weeks Oct 1-23 alone, the number of tourists arriving through 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 10.5mn.
Many businesses dependent on tourism, including restaurants, souvenir shops and bus charter companies, have been suffering heavily, he added.
Ronnarong Chewinsiriamnuai, President of the Thai-Chinese Tourism Alliance Association, 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, reported the Bangkok Post.
“Normally each bus driver earns about B30,000 a month, but now they are making B7,000-8,000,” Mr Ronnarong said. (See story here.)
However, key tourism operators in Phuket are in no such panic, Phuket Tourist Association Vice President Sarayut Mallum told The Phuket News.
“By our own survey, tourism-related businesses in Phuket are being affected by the fall in the number of Chinese tourists coming here, but my understanding is that the effect is not terrible,” he said.
“We have found that more FITs (free, independent travellers) are coming to Phuket. Meanwhile, Indian, Korean and other markets will travel to Phuket, as will many return visitors. So I wouldn’t be worried about it, and we are looking at other ways protect our tourism and instil confidence in our future,” Mr Sarayut said.
“Also, I am confident that Chinese tourists will come back. I believe this because Chinese investors have invested in Phuket a lot. They made long-term plans. They would not accept losing their investment so easily,” he said.
Mr Sarayut also explained that the number of Chinese tourists coming to Phuket was already falling before July 5, and that operators in Phuket’s tourism industry were already in motion to counter the fall.
Economic factors outside Thailand were already playing a large part in the tourism change, Mr Sarayut said.
“The number of Malaysian tourists visiting Hat Yai falling because the value of Malaysian currency is falling. It is a similar situation with Chinese tourists. In the second quarter (this year) alone the yuan fell more than 9% against the dollar,” he said.
Mr Sarayut noted that the Chinese government was taking its own measures to stem the drop, but also pointed out, “While the yuan is not as competitive, fewer Chinese people will be taking trips abroad.”
The same point was made by Tourism Minister Weerasak Kowsurat at a meeting in Bangkok last month to which the tourism minister had called all major officials affected by the fall, including Phuket GovernorPhakaphong Tavipatana.
At that meeting, Minister Weerasak pointed out that while Chinese arrivals were still growing from January through June this year – before the July 5 Phoenix tour boat disaster – the number of Chinese tourists coming to Phuket had already fallen 24.83% during the same period.
“So it’s not all about the July 5 sinking of the tour boat,” Mr Sarayut told The Phuket News.
ATTA Secretary General Adith Chairattananon disagreed.
“Russian and Indian tourists will in part help Phuket’s tourism industry, but they can’t compare to the Chinese market in numbers,” he said.
“Right now, we have no idea whether Chinese tourists will return yet. The government must fix the safety and security issues that affect tourists first – and it must happen in reality,” he added.
“The Phoenix incident made agencies take Phuket tour packages off the shelf because they are not confident in tourists’ safety in Phuket,” Dr Adith said.
“Fixing safety and security will restore agents and tourist’s confidence, then the government can push their free visa promotion. That might make them come back,” he added.
Dr Adith did agree on Phuket spreading its reliance on different tourist source markets as a key strategy for preventing critical damage to the island’s tourism industry.
“For businesses in Phuket to survive, they have to change. They have to modify their strategies to attract more free independent travellers (FITs) and visitors for special interest tourism (weddings, events, conventions, etc),” Dr Adith said.