If you live in the main tourist areas of Thailand you cannot but help notice the huge influx of Chinese tourists, mainly packaged holiday makers but some independent travelers too.
Around 10 million visited Thailand in 2017 and that figure is likely to exceed 13 million in 2018, all in all around 10% of all Chinese tourists visit Thailand; with 135 million of them having traveled abroad in 2017. And, get this, currently only 5% of Chinese have passports. The Chinese numbers will only get bigger in Thailand.
Local Expats Views are All Wrong
Up until my recent meetings with both the TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) Governor and many hoteliers in Thailand, I agreed with the popular expat view. That view was the Chinese were doing nothing more than causing terrible traffic from the coaches and bringing no money into the local economy by virtue of the tour operator controlling their every move. On top of that their rudeness and bad behaviour was off putting for hotels as it ruined it for other nationalities staying at the hotel.
Well it turns out that is not entirely true.
Thailand is ready to turn its back on Westerners and get behind China first and Indians second. Hoteliers would rather have Chinese in their hotels than Westerners too.
Hoteliers WANT Chinese over Western tourists
Don’t believe me? Here are the facts. At this years ITB Global International Travel convention in Berlin the consensus is global travel is booming and the Chinese are fueling this. It is no longer a buyers market but a sellers in the hotel industry – and that is very much the case in Thailand. Hoteliers can pick and choose who they want now. (Quick note: Hoteliers are still frustrated that room rate in Bangkok is far lower than neighbouring Asian countries and that this needs to increase).
The Thailand hoteliers all agreed they preferred the Chinese traveler. You see us Westerners like to moan about everything and this often results in a rebate on room rate. Plus with Western tourists, given the mode of payment, the hotels often don’t see the money for a month (e.g. Agoda etc). With the Chinese tour group they pay immediately and upfront, and – and this shocked me – they pay more than the Western room rate. Western tourists are driving the room rate down and the Chinese tourist is driving it up.
I was with a hotel GM in Bangkok, he manages a five star resort along the Chao Praya river. He overbooks the hotel by 30% at the moment – almost unbelievable to hear – and all to the Chinese market. When the Chinese tour operator rings when arriving at the airport if the rooms are full the GM will merely arrange to move them to a nearby hotel. The tour operator is fine with this, imagine if that happened to a Westerner!
Hoteliers are also aware that the Chinese boom is set to increase, so why not align to this market anyway? The hotelier is laughing, it is a perfect scenario for them. Occupancy in Bangkok is high year round now and it is getting harder and harder to book a room independently.
Where did Expats get it Wrong?
Expats, and that included me, also believed that the Chinese were not putting money into the local economy. Well it turns out that this is not quite true. This time I was with another GM hotelier, but this time in Pattaya. He explained, Westerners do not visit attractions in Thailand yet the Chinese visit up to 5 attractions every day from Nong Nooch Gardens to Miss Tiffanys; on a 5 day trip that’s 25 locations. Yes of course they will visit the tour operators circles too but that is maybe only 20-25% of the total trips organised.
What we are seeing is the Chinese not putting money into local expat businesses, like bars and restaurants – but that is to be expected. The problem here is a declining Western tourist and expat in all the main tourist regions. It has zero to do with the Chinese.
The reality for us Westerners is in not wanting to accept things are changing in Thailand and that we are no longer an important group for the country. In fact, let’s face it, we are of just about no importance as the Chinese and Indians will continue to bring record numbers into the country.
We are moaning about it all, and the irony is, that is exactly one of the things being flagged for why hoteliers would rather a Chinese guest than a Westerner.