After the tragic Phoenix boat accident off the Thai island of Phuket, there are now mounting concerns that the boat accident which killed 47 tourists—all Chinese—will cause Chinese tourism to Thailand to plummet. To make up for the potential drop in arrivals, tour operators are now encouraging the Thai government to introduce a waiver for the visa fee for Chinese tourists. Such a move would make Chinese travel to Thailand more affordable and, presumably, soften the blow of the Phoenix tragedy on the Thai tourism industry.
Thai tour operators want the government to introduce a waiver for visa fees to reduce a potential drop in tourism following the Phoenix boat accident
With Chinese tourists well-known as being particularly security-conscious, it should perhaps not come as a surprise that what turned out to be a highly deadly accident involving Chinese tourists is threatening the bottom line of the Thai tourism industry.
The sinking of the tour boat on July 5 revealed not only the questionable security of many tourism activities in Thailand, but also rifts pertaining to Chinese tourism in Thailand. Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan initially blamed Chinese tour operators for not respecting safety laws, saying “This accident was entirely Chinese harming Chinese.” Needless to say, the Chinese reaction to the Deputy Prime Minister’s comments were highly critical of placing the blame on Chinese people and not Thai safety standards and inspections.
Comments on the accident from Thai officials and the Chinese operators of the Phoenix tour boat exacerbated the media fallout of the tragedy
The Chinese Ministry of Culture of Tourism, meanwhile, pointed out that many of the Chinese tourists aboard the vessel had booked the tour as independent travelers—a growing segment of Chinese travelers in Thailand. The accident could give potential Chinese tourists the impression that no matter if traveling independently or as part of a Chinese tour group, tourism in Thailand comes with inherent risks.
For Thailand, a country which received close to 10 million Chinese tourists last year and is aiming to break the 10 million barrier this year, both the accident and the questionable initial handling of the tragedy could cause this enormous market to shrink. There have been calls in China to boycott travel to Thailand, and many travelers have repeatedly canceled their trips to the country. Of course, to what degree these—often social media—reports are accurate can be scrutinized, but it’s safe to say that tourism in Thailand has taken a substantial PR beating in China.
The accident has already led to substantial online uproar in China
Vichit Prakobkosol, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, has however confirmed that Phuket and other Thai resort destinations have seen thousands of Chinese cancellations in the months of July, August, and September—prompting the association to call for lesser barriers of entry for Chinese tourists.
Vichit suggests that Thailand offers a visa fee waiver to Chinese tourists as soon as possible as a means to avoid having Chinese tourists picking other destinations over Thailand in the coming few months. Such a move would essentially make visits to Thailand around $30 cheaper for Chinese tourists. While it may not sound like a substantial discount for an overseas trip, it would make a difference in the often cost-cutting business of Chinese travel in Southeast Asia.
If the Tourism and Sports Ministry of Thailand will take the Association of Thai Travel Agents’ advice remains to be seen—and will likely depend just how hard of a hit Chinese tourism to Thailand will take in the coming months. However, it will likely take more than a temporarily waived visa fee to repair the damage that the accident made to the tourism brand Thailand in the long-term. Making visas free or permanently cheaper and making sure that such a tragedy won’t be repeated would all be good first steps.