Tourism Industry Fears Revenue Plunge Caused by China Travel Ban

An immigration police officer wears a mask as he inspects a Taiwanese tourist's travel document at Don Mueang Airport on Jan. 26, 2020.

BANGKOK — Thailand’s lucrative tourism industry is bracing for a severe slump in revenue after China suspended all outbound group tours in an effort to contain the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, trade guild representatives said Monday.

Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Yuthasak Supasorn said he expects a sharp downturn in the number of tourists from both China and elsewhere in the coming months due to the epidemic and the Chinese government’s decision to stop the sales of all domestic and international tour packages on Friday.

“We’re seeing a 70 percent drop from the usual amount of 800,000 Chinese tourists per month,” Yuthasak said. “People from other countries also don’t want to travel as well due to fears of the outbreak.”

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While he believed that the current outbreak will be less severe than the SARS contagion in 2003, he said Thailand would need to supplement its tourism industry for at least three months with tourists from other countries such as India, South Korea, Japan, and ASEAN members.

But a prominent tourism business federation said it is too early to evaluate the damage since the situation is still unclear.

“They change their policies every day. There’s even a rumor today that the Chinese government has imposed a travel ban on all tourists, which we’re verifying it with our counterparts in China,” president of Association of Thai Travel Agents Vichit Prakobgosol said in an interview.

Tourists wear masks as they tour the Grand Palace complex on Jan. 26, 2020.

Though Vichit didn’t have an available figure at hand, he estimated the impact on the tourism industry would be tremendous, as this time of the year is a “peak season” for Chinese holidaymakers who typically celebrate the Lunar New Year abroad.

“It would be too early to assess the impact now,” Vichit said. “However, we can still count on individual and business travellers who make up about 40 percent of all Chinese visitors to Thailand.”

The industry is already struggling with the baht currency appreciation, in which the currency rose by approximately 10 percent against the US Dollar in the past months.

According to data published by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, Chinese tourists spent about 580 billion baht last year, or about 30 percent of the overall spending by foreign tourists.

The tourism industry as a whole contributes to 20 percent of Thai GDP, according to the Bank of Thailand.