Recovery of Thai tourism on track with jump in international arrivals – Diplomat

ASEAN win | Economie | Southeast Asia

The country welcomed 11.15 million foreign visitors in 2022, up from just 428,000 a year earlier.

Thailand welcomed 11.15 million foreign visitors in 2022, exceeding the government’s target for this year, and indicating that the recovery of the tourism sector is set to continue this year, the country’s tourism ministry said yesterday.

This was still far short of the 40 million international arrivals registered in the country in 2019, before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. But it marks a sharp improvement over the 428,000 visitors the country saw in 2021, when access to the country was complicated by a host of pandemic-related travel restrictions.

Somewhat surprisingly, the country’s top three source markets in 2022 were Malaysia, India and Singapore, according to ministry data.

This is obviously good news for Thailand, whose economy is the second largest in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) but is also extraordinarily dependent on tourism. While the country managed to contain COVID-19 with relative success during 2020, lockdowns and a collapse in international travel have brought international tourism to a virtual halt. This contributed to the country experiencing the second worst recession among the ten ASEAN countries that year, with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) announcing that its economy shrank by 6.1 percent.

Thailand’s tourism authorities are now targeting 25 million international visitors in 2023, a target that will be greatly aided by the resumption of outbound tourism from China, following Beijing’s flippant decision to abandon “zero COVID” and associated travel restrictions earlier this month. In 2019, Thailand welcomed a record 11.5 million visitors, but China’s prolonged dalliance with its “zero COVID” policy has slowed Thailand’s expected recovery.

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Indeed, the resumption of Chinese outbound tourism has been warmly welcomed throughout the region. In the Philippine capital Manila, Reuters reported this week that Filipinos in traditional clothing “played bamboo marimba and distributed necklaces and gifts” to the first Chinese visitor to return to the country since before the pandemic. Indonesian authorities also put on a similar show in Denpasar, Bali, where the first direct flight from China in three years arrived with an honor guard of traditionally dressed Balinese flight attendants and lion dances in celebration of the Lunar New Year.

At Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia, Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Teong Keng Seng this weekend personally welcomed Chinese visitors from Fuzhou with Lunar New Year souvenirs.

In 2019, the Philippines and Indonesia received 1.7 million and 2 million Chinese visitors, respectively. But as in Thailand, that fell sharply last year to just 39,627 passengers in the Philippines and nearly 100,000 passengers in Indonesia. Malaysia saw a similar decline, but has set an ambitious target of attracting 5 million Chinese tourists this year – a 60 percent increase from the 3.1 million who visited in 2019.

On a related note, the Singapore government said this week that it is on track to achieve a full recovery of its tourism sector by 2024. The city-state saw 6.3 million visitors last year, according to tourism authorities, down from 19.1 million in 2019. But it’s just over Government projections of 4-6 million.

Like its neighbours, Singapore is also poised to recover from the resurgence of Chinese outbound travel. The country received 3.6 million visitors from China in 2019, the single largest source of foreign arrivals in the country.

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