- Title: Thai crackdown on budget tours hits Chinese New Year
- Date: 14th January 2017
- Summary: TOURISTS EATING DINNER ON CRUISE SHIP
- Embargoed: 28th January 2017 02:08
- Keywords: Thailand tourism Lunar New year Chinese tourists budget tour
- Location: BANGKOK, THAILAND
- City: BANGKOK, THAILAND
- Country: Thailand
- Topics: Economic Events
- Reuters ID: LVA0045Z1XZR9
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Chinese hotel bookings to Thailand for the Lunar New Year have tumbled as a crackdown on cheap package tours hits visitor numbers from its biggest source of holidaymakers.
Tourism is increasingly important for Thailand given that growth lags other Southeast Asian economies. Between 2012 and 2016, the number of Chinese visitors trebled to nearly a third of all Thailand's tourists by numbers and revenue.
But a crackdown on "zero-dollar" package tours in September sent that into reverse and there is little sign of recovery ahead of the January 28 to February 2 Lunar New Year holiday.
Tristar Floating Restaurant Co. Ltd, the owner of Chophraya Princess Cruise which cater dinner cruises to Chinese tourists, has six cruise ships but now operates only one.
"We have a total of 6 cruise ships but now we operate only one ship because the number of (Chinese) tourists has decreased 60-65 percent," said Vichai Tanasopananont, president of Tristar Floating Restaurant Co.,Ltd.
Thailand's tourism authority expects a 7.7 percent drop in Chinese tourists for the Lunar New Year this year, though offset by a 3.9 percent rise in tourists from elsewhere, and it sees Chinese tourist numbers rising back during 2017.
Zero-dollar tourists pay everything up front.
Operators cut any cost they can while tourists are sometimes cajoled into buying over-priced souvenirs so the company earns commission. Those are the practices Thailand wants to stop.
But the government's insistence on a minimum 1,000 baht ($28) per night charge for package tourists had made Thailand uncompetitive for many Chinese visitors, tour operators say.
Chinese tourist numbers fell 30 percent in November from the year before to the lowest monthly total in more than two years.
Although Chinese visitor numbers have fallen, the number of travellers from elsewhere has continued to rise.
Tristar Floating Restaurant Co., Ltd. is looking to new markets in Southeast Asia.
"Currently we are looking into the new markets such as Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, and Myanmar. These are our new markets," said Vichai.
Thailand nonetheless forecasts that Chinese tourist numbers will recover to reach nine million by the end of 2017 to just top last year's total.
By targeting wealthier Chinese travellers, revenue from China will increase over 14 percent this year to around 500 billion baht, according to Tourism Authority of Thailand.
"Right now we're seeing the higher expense from each person. It has increased from 4,000 baht to 5,000 baht to 6,000 baht per day now, which we considered a very good sign. It means we're going to the right direction," said deputy governor Srisuda Wanapinyosak.
For those whose livelihoods have been affected, improvement cannot come soon enough.
"It might be good if we have tourists who spend more. They might shop and buy more stuff but I haven't seen them here yet," said Naruja Nakthong, 27 year-old souvenir shop owner in the historic Thonburi area of Bangkok.
Overall, Thailand expects growth in tourist revenue of 8.5 percent to nearly $50 billion - more than double the overall economic growth rate forecast.
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