Thailand made major gains in the number of Chinese visitors in 2013, thanks in no small part to the blockbuster film Lost in Thailand. However, the country’s ongoing political strife has dampened its reputation as a top tourism destination, meaning that Chinese travelers headed to Southeast Asia will be looking at other locales for the upcoming Chinese New Year travel period from January 31 to February 6.
An anti-government movement in Thailand plans to shut down the government on January 13, less than three weeks before the start of the holiday period. Protests took off in November after the government tried to force political amnesty for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s brother, who is currently in exile after being ousted as prime minister in a 2006 military coup. Demonstrations and have resulted in “sporadic violence,” according to Reuters. As a result, over 40 countries have issued travel warnings for Thailand.
Thailand’s economy received an estimated $140 million from Chinese travelers during Chinese New Year last year, but it looks like it won’t reach near that amount this year. Thailand’s tourism and sports minister has expressed concern about the decreased number of Chinese tourists for the holiday, and one tour operator told Chinese media that the number of Chinese tourists booking before Chinese New Year has gone down by 70 percent. Meanwhile, China Eastern has been scaling back on its flights to Thailand because so many tourists are canceling their reservations.
Meanwhile, other tourist areas in the region hope to catch the attention of high-spending Chinese travelers canceling their Thailand vacations. One of these destinations is Bali, which is seeing a boom in Chinese tourists and expects the number to continue to rise. Starting on January 15, Hainan Airlines will launch regular flights between Beijing and Bali, just in time for the holiday season. The airline is partnering with Caissa Touristic Group to offer vacation packages to Chinese tourists, and Chinese media will be flown to Bali for the inaugural flight. An estimated 30,000 Chinese tourists are expected to spend around $90 million in Bali and the rest of Indonesia as a result of the flights.
Political problems in Southeast Asia have been known to have a huge effect on tourism numbers from China. In the Philippines, a 2010 bus hostage crisis that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead was a factor in a 70 percent drop in Chinese visitors over three to four years.