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After ruble's collapse, Chinese tourists come to Thailand's rescue

02/02/2015| 10:39:25 AM|

Thailand saw a fall in tourists last year for the first time since the global financial crisis after visitors from Russia slumped.

The ruble's fall by almost half in the past six months has kept wealthy Russians from their shopping trips to St. Moritz. It has also turned the flow of vacationers from the country to Thailand to a trickle.

The Land of Smiles recorded a fall in tourists last year for the first time since the global financial crisis after visitors from Russia, Thailand's third-biggest source,fell for nine straight months through December as sanctions were widened and the ruble slumped.

Admittedly, the military coup in Thailand on May 22 also scared tourists away. Martial law is still in place, which makes getting travel insurance very hard, if not impossible; several tourist murders at popular beach resorts have further muddied the country's appeal. 

Fortunately for Thailand, where tourism accounts for about 10 percent of gross domestic product, the Chinese have been flocking to its temples and beaches in greater numbers. Visitors from the mainland rebounded in the last three months, and surged 87 percent in December from the previous year. Tourists from China made up about 19 percent of the almost 25 million visitors last year, the biggest share, while those from Russia accounted for about 7 percent of the total. 

The military-led Thai government, struggling to revive the economy with exports slumping and investors wary, offered a three-month visa-fee waiver for Chinese and Taiwanese tourists last August. It's also promoting the country as a medical tourismdestination. 

It will need all the help it can get: tourists from Russia will drop by 20 percent to 40 percent this year to all destinations, Yakov Mirkin, head of the Department of International Capital Markets at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said in an op-ed this month.

Fortunately, Chinese outbound tourism is forecast to grow up to 20 percent this year from last year, when the number of Chinese traveling abroad reached 109 million. Time to extend that visa-fee waiver.

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TAGS: Thailand | Chinese | visa
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