Plunge in Chinese tourists rattles Thailand

Tourists from China look at a souvenir photograph taken outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok. (Bloomberg pic)

BANGKOK: Chinese tourist arrivals in Thailand are tumbling, dragging down overall visitor growth in the Southeast Asian nation and dimming the outlook for an economy that relies on spending by holidaymakers.

Travellers from China slid 12% in August, the biggest drop in more than a year, keeping the overall pace of visitor growth near a 16-month low.

Thai officials are rattled as Chinese visitors are the top source of foreign receipts in an industry that makes up about a fifth of the economy.

The trigger for the drop was a tour boat accident off Phuket in July that killed dozens of Chinese holidaymakers, sparking safety concerns.

Thailand’s image in China has also been hurt by a dengue outbreak, the strength of the baht and, most recently, a viral video of an airport guard apparently punching a Chinese tourist.

“The negative growth in Chinese arrivals is a downside risk in the second half of 2018,” said Kampon Adireksombat, the chief economist at Kasikorn Securities Pcl in Bangkok.

The tourism slowdown and the impact of global trade disputes will cut Thai economic growth to 4.2% next year from an estimated 4.5% in 2018, he said.

The Thai military government this week moved to limit the damage from the video of the attack on the Chinese tourist, saying on Twitter that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha regrets the incident – underlining the administration’s sensitivity to bad press on the mainland.