Highlight. 28 January Chinese tourists continue to grow despite China slowdown

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1 Chinese tourists continue to grow despite China slowdown 28 January 2016 Highlight Thailand s tourism will thrive in 2016 with the number of tourists growing by 9%, led by Chinese tourists, who will not only increase in number but also the amount of money they spent. The slowdown in the Chinese economy is not expected to affect the number of Chinese tourists in Thailand, since Chinese incomes continue to expand, particularly compared to the affordable cost of traveling in Thailand that rises at a slower pace. Plus, Thailand may gain from a shift in travel destinations among high-income Chinese affected by plunging stock prices. Surging numbers of Chinese tourists have drawn Chinese investment into Thailand s service sector. Thai businesses will therefore face stronger competition, especially in the market that serves tour groups. To deal with this, the government and businesses should devise new marketing strategies appealing to Chinese tourists, create value-added tourism products and services, and improve infrastructures to facilitate self-guided travelers. Thailand s tourism in 2016 will continue last year s expansion, with the number of tourists expected to rise by around 9%, led by Chinese tourists, whose spending per person will also rise. Last year foreign tourists contributed as much as 2.23 trillion baht to Thailand national income. Given 20% percent growth, the number of foreign tourists totaled 29.8 million in In particular, the number of Chinese visitors to Thailand reached 7.9 million, a 71% expansion from EIC expects that tourism-related businesses will see robust growth in 2016, thanks to the increase in number of tourists from 2015, and Chinese visitors will continue to be the main driver of the industry. Conversely, the number of Russian tourists is on the decline, from as much as 1.7 million in 2013 down to 0.9 million in Nevertheless, income from Chinese tourists will help offset a large part of the fall in income from Russian visitors, thanks to an improvement in their quality of tourism. That is, spending per person among Chinese tourists has grown from 4,425 baht in 2010 to 5,748 baht in Thailand s tourism industry will also benefit from capacity expansion in various international airports that will help accommodate more visitors. For example, extensions at Don Muang and U-Tapao International Airports have been in service since the end of last December. Moreover, another expansion at Phuket International Airport will open this May. It is estimated that expansions of the

2 three airports will allow the country to accommodate 20.5 million more travelers each year. The slowdown in Chinese economy is not expected to result in fewer Chinese tourists in Thailand, thanks to the country s price competitiveness. In 2015, Thailand was the most popular travel destination among Chinese tourists. 1 The number of Chinese tourists in Thailand has been on the rise since 2009, in tandem with growing income among Chinese citizens as their economy expanded 11% annually on average between 2009 and However, in recent Chinese economic downturn, depreciation of the yuan, and massive fall in Chinese stock market have raised concerns that the number of Chinese tourists in Thailand may be reduced. But the purchasing power of Chinese tourists remains high due to income per capita in China growing for many years and low household-debt to GDP, which led to a vast increase in the middle-income class. Coupled with the affordable cost of traveling in Thailand, with prices rising at a slower pace than Chinese incomes, an China economy deceleration to 6-7% annual growth should not result in a decline in Chinese visitors to Thailand. Conversely, highincome Chinese households, who have been affected by the huge drop in stock index, may turn to Thailand as a more affordable travel destination. The number of Russian tourists will remain subdued and is expected to continue to decline, as oil and other commodity prices weigh down the Russian economy. As such, tourism businesses that rely on this group of tourists ought to gear more towards the Chinese. Back in 2013, Russian tourists contributed over 120,000 million baht in income to the Thai economy. However, the decline in oil prices and massive depreciation in the ruble have led to a sharp drop in number of Russian tourists, from 1.7 million each year in previous years down to 0.8 million in In 2016, with no sign of recovery in oil price and the ruble, the number of Russian visitors to Thailand is expected to continue its steady decline. The tumbling oil prices since 2014 have led to a fall in Russian purchasing power, since oil exports account for 70% of all Russian exports. The number of Russian tourists has fallen as a result. Going forward, EIC expects oil prices to remain at low levels, as the global supply of crude oil continues to rise due to the following two factors. First, OPEC remains committed to maintaining a high level of oil production. Second, Iran is likely to raise its manufacturing volume and crude oil exports in the wake of the U.S. lifting its sanctions. The resulting excess supply will continue to put downward pressure on the price of crude oil. The decline in the number of Russian tourists will mostly affect tourism businesses in Pattaya and Phuket. Therefore, businesses in these areas will have to adjust their strategies accordingly. However, the increase in the number of Chinese tourists has drawn Chinese investment into Thailand s service sector. Thai businesses will thus face stronger competition. The large number of Chinese visitors in Thailand has attracted Chinese investors into Thai tourism business catering to Chinese tourists. This is reflected in high level of share of Chinese and Hong Kong FDI in Thailand s service sector that totalling over 40,000 million baht over the past decade. The investment is concentrated particularly in hotel and restaurant businesses, reaching 20% and 23% of total FDI in each sector, respectively. Thus, Thai businesses will face stronger competition. This foreign investment trend is not new, since Russian investors have also been running various types of businesses in Pattaya, but the differences in Chinese and Russia tourists may 1 Excluding Hong Kong and Macao.

3 lead to a different impact on local businesses. On the one hand, the 44% majority of Chinese tourists travel in tour groups. As such, they have to follow the schedules that tour companies have arranged for them. This includes which hotels to stay in, which restaurants to dine at, and even which souvenir shops to visit. Therefore, instead of benefiting Thai businesses, Chinese visitors spending may leave the country via Chinese-owned hotels, restaurants, and retail and wholesale shops. Each year, Chinese visitors who travel with tour groups spend over 100,000 million baht on accommodations, food and beverages (restaurants), and shopping. On the other hand, 74% of Russian tourists travel on their own. Therefore, they enjoy greater freedom in their schedules and choices of services, as compared to their Chinese counterparts. Medical and healthcare tourism for Chinese tourists is another trend to watch for. Among Asian countries, Thailand and South Korea are the top competitors in medical tourism, particularly for plastic surgery, which attracts a large number of foreign tourists. But in 2015, plastic surgery in South Korea encountered quality problems due to services that were not up to standard and an inability to crack down on illegal surgeons. These incidents have opened up an opportunity for Thailand s plastic surgery industry, as the Chinese government and citizens are more cautious of services from South Korea. In addition, an increasing number of Chinese are getting medical checkups in Thailand because of the better service quality and overcrowding in Chinese hospitals. Last year a leading private hospital in Thailand saw a 39% growth in income from Chinese patients. At the same time, another private hospital specializing in beauty care is planning a 1,500 million baht investment that will transform it into a center for plastic surgery, and another 800 million baht invesment on a new facility to specifically accommodate foreign patients. Implications Thai businesses should implement new marketing strategies that more effectively target Chinese tourists, while at the same time add value to their products and services, in order to develop a competitive edge and benefit from the expanding market of Chinese tourists. EIC suggests that business owners should be on the lookout for new trends among Chinese customers and keep introducing new products to serve their needs. This includes decorations and interior designs that fit their tastes. For instance, Chinese tourists do not prefer hotels or places with Chinese-style decorations. However, they do prefer amenities that reflect their culture, such as tea and coffee kettles, as well as twin bathroom sinks that allow them to make the most efficient use of their time. The government should play a role in developing infrastructure to enhance the competitiveness of the tourism industry. EIC believes that the government should take part in infrastructure development that will enable tourists to enjoy a greater variety of tourism services with increased ease. Moreover, it should employ various media outlets to provide information and support for self-guided tourists. In addition, the government should implement a stricter screening process on foreign businesses in the country.

4 Figure 1: Number of foreign tourists in Thailand Unit: Million people Source: EIC analysis based on data from CEIC. Figure 2: GDP per capita Vs. Travelling expenses of Chinese tourists in Thailand Unit: Index Figure 3: Chinese household debt to GDP ratio Unit: % to GDP Source: EIC analysis based on data from the Department of Tourism and CEIC

5 Figure 4: Foreign direct investment in service sectors between Unit: Million baht, % of total investment in each sector Source: EIC analysis based on data from Bank of Thailand Figure 5: Shares of Russian and Chinese tourists Unit: % of total tourists from each country Figure 6: Estimated spending of Chinese tourists travelling with tour groups Unit: Million baht >100,000 million baht Source: EIC analysis based on data from the Department of Tourism and CEIC By : Lapas Akaraphanth Economic Intelligence Center (EIC) Siam Commercial Bank Public Company Limited EIC Online:

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