For many destinations, the return of the world’s largest outbound travel market – accounting for a staggering 155 million international trips in 2019 – will boost their economies following the challenges of the last three years. Following the easing of restrictions on China’s huge outbound travel market, Thailand’s leading hoteliers reveal their expectations for the

SAii Laguna PhuketFor many destinations, the return of the world’s largest outbound travel market – accounting for a staggering 155 million international trips in 2019 – will boost their economies following the challenges of the last three years.

Following the easing of restrictions on China’s huge outbound travel market, Thailand’s leading hoteliers reveal their expectations for the recovery of Chinese tourism in the “Land of Smiles.” On 8th January 2023, the Chinese government announced that it would reopen its borders and allow its citizens to take overseas vacations for the first time since early 2020.

But what does the return of Chinese visitors mean for hotel and tourism operators in the “Land of Smiles”?

Thailand, for example, welcomed 11 million Chinese travellers in 2019, more than a quarter of its total arrivals. Will there be an immediate influx of tourists, or will the recovery be more gradual? And what are the key factors that are likely to help or hinder the rebound?

Centara Grand Island Resort & Spa Maldives
Centara Grand Island Resort & Spa Maldives

Dirk De Cuyper, CEO of S Hotels and Resorts, the hospitality arm of Singha Estate, which operates multiple resorts in Thailand, said that his company had already seen a sharp rise in interest. However, he expects “a complete Chinese resurgence to take more time. He added, however, that “several factors such as limited flights, airport controls, delays in passport applications etc.” are impacting the speed of the revival.”

“Our properties in Thailand are seeing steady growth in terms of inquiries and bookings, mainly from free independent travellers via online channels. We experienced a 70 percent increase in searches for our hotels following the announcement of China’s borders reopening,” Mr De Cuyper revealed.

Jurairat Mongkolwongsiri, Corporate Vice President of Sales at Centara Hotels & Resorts, which has the most extensive domestic portfolio of any Thai-owned hotel group, added that her company had already started to receive inquiries for FIT and group bookings in significant destinations such as Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Koh Samui and Chiang Mai.

“We have started to receive inquiries for inspections of our Bangkok properties, and Chinese aircrews are confirmed to stay at our hotel in Chiang Mai,” Ms Jurairat commented. Before 2020, Chinese travellers could choose from 28 airlines operating multiple routes between Thailand and China, covering 44 airports and offering 17 million seats.

Le Méridien Bangkok
Le Méridien Bangkok

But these numbers dwindled during the pandemic, and airlines are only starting to re-establish services. Earlier this month, Spring Airlines said it would resume flights from Shanghai to Phuket and from Guangzhou to Chiang Mai in January while increasing frequencies from Shanghai to Bangkok. [But] we can only propose available hotels – our Phuket properties, for example, are already full.

The priority period is Chinese New Year, and to get more requests. Juneyao Air is also resuming its service between Shanghai and Chiang Mai.

“International airports in Thailand are at high capacity in terms of route and airport controls, so we expect that it will be some time until airlines can add more direct or connected flights,” Mr De Cuyper said.

Thai airlines are waiting for Chinese authorities to approve additional flights, so it sounds like there may be a process to overcome before the rising demand can be met. Dieter Ruckenbauer, General Manager of Le Méridien Bangkok, which recently completed a significant refurbishment, said he believes that demand from China will “steadily pick up from here”.

According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, in 2022, Thailand tallied roughly 11.8 million arrivals, only about one-quarter of the 2019 figure (39.8 million). “Considering how much further we have to go to get back to pre-Covid levels, we expect to experience significant updraft in the coming months,” Mr Ruckenbauer noted.

SAii Lagoon Maldives
SAii Lagoon Maldives

Once these logistical issues are overcome, however, Thailand will likely be one of the primary beneficiaries of the grand Chinese reopening.

We are optimistic that travel will continue to grow.

The industry outlook is still highly volatile. There are many risks associated with inflation, rising energy costs and commodity prices, potentially leading to economic recession in the year’s first half. With the opening of China’s borders, we can see that coordinated action across governments at all levels, and the private sector is essential to help international tourism resume.

The outlook for the tourism sector indeed remains uncertain, but we are optimistic about it. On a positive note, however, some of our hotels have already surpassed their 2019 performance levels, and the upward momentum is continuing in the first quarter of 2023.

We are fully ready to welcome guests from around the world and provide warm and heartfelt Thai hospitality,” he concluded.
Centara’s Ms Jurairat “agreed but urged a coordinated approach between all the relevant parties to ensure a smooth and stable recovery.” She stated that it requires global cooperation and evidence-based solutions to lift travel restrictions safely. “That we have high hopes and are ready to welcome the Chinese guests back to our properties,” she stated.

Mr De Cuyper and S Hotels & Resorts are also cautiously optimistic about the prospects for 2023.

For more information about travelling in Thailand, please visit Centara Hotels & Resorts, S Hotels & Resorts or Le Méridien Bangkok.

 

 

 

Written by: Supaporn  Pholrach (Joom)

 

 

 

 

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