Thailand’s struggling tourism industry is finding support with visitors from the population colossus to its west, just as the years of bumper arrivals from the giant to its north are beginning to wane.
At a beachfront hotel on the tropical island of Phuket, the occupancy rate from Chinese clientele has stalled, while bookings from India have begun to rise. The Vijitt Resort is one of many in Thailand that has more cause for optimism.
What’s happening to Thai tourism could prove a canary in the coal mine for the leisure sector in other Asian economies as China matures and a new India emerges. The Thai industry had been expanding at about 10 percent a year on escalating inbound Chinese arrivals, but a 2018 boat accident in Phuket that killed dozens of mainlanders and a slowing economy at home have triggered a drop in numbers.
In contrast, Indian arrivals accelerated in recent months due to more direct flights, a visa waiver and, most importantly, increasing wealth.
The rapid expansion of the middle class among India’s 1.3 billion people has prompted Thai authorities to upgrade their estimates of Indian visitors. At least 10 million are now expected to arrive in 2028, a more than five-fold increase on 2018 visits. That sort of growth trajectory would mimic the rise of Chinese tourists, who jumped from 800,000 in 2008 to more than 10 million last year.
Although China will remain an important market, it is likely to offer less growth potential in the years ahead. India, meanwhile, is set to become the new expansion story in Thai tourism, an industry that accounts for about 20 percent of gross domestic product.
Chinese visitors currently make up 28 percent of total foreign arrivals, well ahead of Indians at 4 percent. But within a decade, Indian arrivals are forecast to surge to about 15 percent of the total, while Chinese are predicted to edge up to about 30 percent.
Chinese arrivals could actually fall this year from 2018 as the yuan has weakened against the baht, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. That might deter more cost-conscious Chinese tourists, or see them spend less if they do make the trip.
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