According to the March 2018 China Air Travel Report from OAG, the number of connections between China and Thailand has more than doubled since March of 2015 to cater to the ever-growing demand for travel to Thailand in the Chinese market. Three years ago, China had 69 city-pair routes with the Southeast Asian country. Today it has 148, with 57 of those connections being direct flights.

The number of Sino-Thai city-pair connections has gone from 69 to 148 in three years

While the main takeaway is of course that more Chinese travelers are coming to Thailand, it is also significant to note that a larger portion of these travelers is coming from second and third-tier Chinese cities. Traditionally, China’s first-tier cities included only Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai. But with rapid economic development, consumers from historically second and third-tier cities have become increasingly important and have fueled a boom in outbound Chinese travel.

It’s because of growth from these markets, and increased air connectivity, that Thailand expects to attract 10 million Chinese tourists this year.

Thailand is expecting 10 million Chinese tourists this year

On the other hand, the latest data from OAG also reveals a less positive aspect of this connection and tourism expansion. While 148 Chinese cities have connections with Thailand, these cities only reach a total of 9 Thai destinations. This isn’t wholly unsurprising of course, given the relative size of both countries. However, it underlines the substantial concentration of the millions of Chinese tourists in Thailand around only a few cities.

Overtourism is something that Thailand experienced even before the boom in outbound Chinese travel, but attracting increasingly more Chinese travelers has only exacerbated the problem. Just this week Thai authorities have ordered the shut down of the Maya Bay beach on the island of Koh Phi Leh, made famous by the Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Beach, for four months, citing environmental damage concerns. Parallels can be drawn to the impending closure of the Philippines’ Boracay Island due to similar concerns.

Tourism has become an incredibly damaging force for many of Thailand’s most famous natural attractions

While many marine national parks are closed this time of year, the beach has remained open year-round due to its popularity among foreign tourists. However, the heavy visitor traffic has caused damage to coral reefs and other sea life. Experts hope that the temporary closure of Maya Bay will facilitate recovery.

Despite the associated costs with growing international tourism, Thailand appears to be weathering the storm and implementing nuanced tourism policies that not only help protect the environment but also help regulate exploitative “zero-dollar” tours, albeit with limited success. Most significantly could be the opportunity for other destinations, particularly in Southeast Asia, to take note of Thailand’s example in managing the costs of tourism in order to reap the most benefits.