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THAILAND WELCOMES 10 MILLIONTH CHINESE TOURIST AS ARRIVALS FALL

A top tourism official said Thursday he expects up to 12 million Chinese travelers to visit Thailand next year.

His forecast came a day after the 10 millionth tourist from China arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport, a number exceeding previous years. The visitor, He Weixin from Kunming, was welcomed with a grand ceremony at the airport.

Around 9.8 Chinese tourists came to Thailand in 2017, generating over 520 billion baht in revenue. The Tourism Authority of Thailand, or TAT, made its goal to pump the number up to 10 million by the end of 2018.

“The situation has finally recovered,” TAT director Yuthasak Supasorn said by phone. “For the next year, we will set the goal for 11 or 12 million tourists from China.”

But latest figures released by tourism officials undercut optimism for a recovery. According to the data, the number of Chinese tourists has fallen five consecutive months compared to the same period last year.

During October, about 646,000 Chinese tourists visited Thailand, compared with 805,616 in October 2017. This past November – the latest month recorded – the number was 675,129, a 14 percent drop from last year’s 790,839.

It was a sharp reversal from the figures in the earlier months of 2018, when Chinese arrivals increased by as much as 25 percent and 50 percent from the previous year.

The fall coincided with the sinking of a ferry carrying Chinese tourists off the coast of Phuket province, killing 47 people. Several days after the incident, deputy junta chairman Prawit Wongsuwan blamed Chinese tour operators for the deaths in interviews with reporters, sparking fury on Chinese social media. Prawit apologized the following day.

Thai officials said they have improved safety measures and implemented a PR blitz to lure the Chinese back.

At yesterday’s ceremony to welcome the 10 millionth Chinese tourist, Tourism Minister Weerasak Kowsurat thanked both the private and public sectors in Thailand and China for the achievement.

The minister then presented He, dubbed “the Luckiest Tourist” by tourism officials, with a pair of round-trip plane tickets to Thailand, a limo ride and up to 135,000 baht in shopping vouchers.