Around One Million Chinese Nationals Visited Thailand In 2011
Owing to its proximity, relatively inexpensive accommodations, and easy visa policy, over the past several years Thailand has been inundated with a growing number of mainland Chinese tourists, around 1.4 million in 2011 alone. With China’s outbound tourism market surging, and Chinese nationals expected to take 100 million trips abroad by 2015, Thai tourism officials expect this group to soon become the largest source market for outbound tourists to Thailand, surpassing Malaysia, and likely dominate for years to come, if not permanently.
In an attempt to keep this momentum going, the Tourism of Authority of Thailand (TAT) has a series of marketing events and activities planned for 2012, including even more relaxed visa regulations and new ad campaigns. According to a TAT release, these campaigns include a music video, starring a Thai pop star, singing in Mandarin over shots of Thailand’s top tourist attractions.
What this booming Chinese tourism in Thailand means is dollar signs for hoteliers and retail developers. Though outbound Chinese tourists in Thailand are still broadly visiting as part of tour groups, increasing independent travel and higher spending on accommodations by second- or third-time visitors and younger travelers is giving developers cause for optimism. As Jarrat Beaumont, Group Sales Director of the Singapore-based real estate developer Castlewood Group, said, “More Chinese nationals are travelling overseas as they become more affluent due to the growing economy in China,” adding, “Thailand has long been a popular destination for them because of its close proximity to China.”
Beaumont noted that some of the most popular destinations for Chinese tourists are the beaches of Phuket, Koh Samui and Krabi.
Still, the massive increase in the number of Chinese tourists flooding resorts in Thailand is coming too quickly for many resort operators, forcing them to balance between catering to the new Chinese traveler and the European, American and Japanese tourists who preceded them by decades. As Shaun Rein of the China Market Research Group recently wrote of a conversation with a Thai luxury hotelier:
The Chinese, he said, want lively, louder environments where they can shop for Louis Vuitton and Gucci bags and eat in large groups, while European visitors prefer a more tranquil, quiet, back-to-nature kind of experience. “When too many Chinese, Indians, and Russians come and we cater to them by opening shopping centers or set up large group tables, we see a clash with what the Europeans want. The Europeans leave and look for other quieter hotels, or different locations altogether. For instance, we have seen more Europeans leaving Phuket and going to Khao Lak and Krabi and other more peaceful areas.”
As I said goodbye to the hotelier, it was clear that he had a choice he needed to make: He could either target his offerings to both Chinese and European customers, which would mean opening a second property to cater to each group’s needs better, or continue trying to be all things to all people and potentially lose both groups to hotels that are more targeted.
Since the flow of Chinese tourists into Thailand shows no signs of abating, and the next several years should see more members of this traveler segment transition from tour groups and mall trips to independent sightseeing, nature resorts and high-end accommodations, Rein concludes that hoteliers have no choice but to take the needs of Chinese tourists into account “to survive in a changing landscape.” Although some, like Hilton (with its “Huanying” program) and Four Seasons, are doing this already, the remain in the minority.
But as big-spending independent Chinese tourists go further afield, beyond Asia and into Europe and increasingly North and South America, localization, even if that just means low-key amenities, is a must that hoteliers can’t ignore.