Despite the August 17 bomb attack in Bangkok that killed at least 20 people, including six Chinese nationals and several other foreign tourists, Thailand’s Teflon tourism industry continues to boom in 2015.
A week ago, the Department of Tourism has published visitor statistics for the month of August (a detailed table has been embedded below) and tourist arrivals have once again surged by nearly 25% year-on-year.
As in previous months, this was mainly due to a sharp increase in arrival numbers from China that surged by 78% year-on-year, from 450,000 in August 2014 to a whopping 800,000 this year. That was nearly a third of the 2.6 million foreign tourists that visited Thailand in August. Granted, the Financial Times note:
These numbers are inflated by a low base effect caused by the flight of tourists during 2014 political turmoil – yet arrivals also grew by 10% in August and 13% in September versus the banner year of 2013.
Indeed, initial reports also hint at a 22% year-on-year increase in arrival numbers for September, indicating that the Erawan Shrine attack has had no significant impact on tourist arrivals whatsoever.
But first, let’s have a look at arrival numbers for August 2015:
While total tourist arrivals were up 24.72% year-on-year this was again mostly due to a sharp increase in arrival numbers from China. In fact, the number of Chinese visitors surged by 78%, from 449.670 last year to 800.596 in 2015. Arrival numbers from other East Asian countries and the ASEAN region also soared by 37.46%.
On the downside, tourist arrivals from other parts of the world have grown relatively little or even decreased.
Tourist arrivals from North and South America were up 11.24% in August. Arrivals from South Asia increased by 8.25%, with the number of visitors from India rising by 12.84% year-on-year to 84.610 in August. The number of Australian tourists decreased by half a percent and arrivals from the Middle East were down 11.87%.
As in previous months, tourist numbers from Russia were down 37.65%. In fact, the combined 387.104 visitors from Europe (that’s a barely noticeable increase of 1.16% year-on-year) paled beside the 1.2 million arrivals from China and East Asia over the same period.
Here are the #10 tourist arrivals by nationality for August 2015:
- China (800.596)
- Malaysia (279.543)
- Japan (141.672)
- South Korea (137.405)
- Laos (122.767)
- India (84.610)
- United Kingdom (74.094)
- Hong Kong (70.046)
- Singapore (65.226)
- Australia (61.339)
Sure, as the Financial Times point out in their analysis, Thailand’s Teflon tourism sector remains “one of the few bright spots in [the country’s] struggling economy” this year. But, the report cautions, it’s exclusively soaring arrival numbers from China and East Asia that keep the tourism wheel turning at such pace:
China now accounts for about 30 per cent of all visitors to Thailand, up from less than 10 per cent five years ago – and it could exceed 50 per cent within two years.
In a very direct sense, the Thai economy is at the mercy of foreign tourists, particularly those from China.
And to make the outlook even bleaker, these are tourist masses you will hardly notice on the streets of Pattaya as they spend most of their holidays sitting on tour buses hasting from one attraction to the other. The Chinese are good business for tour agencies and, to a lesser extent, the local hotel industry (that faces increased pressure by heavy-weight Chinese travel agents to slash room rates to uneconomic levels.)
But the Chinese who mostly travel in tour groups will leave hardly any money in the bars – the traditional heart of Pattaya. The peak season may be approaching on paper (it’s due to kick off in a month); but most bars around town remain as empty and lifeless as throughout the “low season” summer months and continue their struggle for survival – which is literally hanging by a thread for many.