Thailand’s tourism recovery is on track as international arrivals surge – The Diplomat

ASEAN Beat | Economy | Southeast Asia

The country welcomed 11.15 million foreign visitors in 2022, up from just 428,000 the previous year.

Thailand welcomed 11.15 million foreign visitors in 2022, surpassing the government’s target for the year and suggesting the recovery of its tourism sector will continue this year, the country’s tourism ministry said yesterday.

That was still a far cry from the roughly 40 million international arrivals the country recorded in 2019, before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. But that marked a sharp improvement on the 428,000 visitors the country saw in 2021, when access to the country was complicated by multiple travel restrictions linked to the pandemic.

Somewhat surprisingly, according to ministry data, the country’s top three source markets in 2022 are Malaysia, India and Singapore.

This is obviously good news for Thailand, whose economy is the second largest in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) but is also unusually dependent on tourism. While the country managed to contain COVID-19 with relative success in 2020, the shutdown and collapse in international travel brought international tourism to a virtual halt. That contributed to the country experiencing the second worst recession of the 10 ASEAN countries this year, with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) reporting that its economy shrank by 6.1 percent.

Thai tourism authorities are now targeting 25 million international visitors in 2023, a target that will be greatly aided by the resurgence of outbound tourism from China, following Beijing’s decision to abandon “zero COVID” and related travel restrictions earlier this month. In 2019, Thailand welcomed a record 11.5 million visitors, but China’s continued flirtation with its draconian “zero COVID” policy has slowed Thailand’s expected recovery.

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Indeed, the resurgence of Chinese outbound tourism has been warmly welcomed throughout the region. In the Philippine capital, Manila, Reuters reported this week that Filipinos in traditional dress “played bamboo marimbas and handed out necklaces and gifts” to the first Chinese visitors to return to the country since the pandemic. Indonesian authorities staged a similar show in Bali’s Denpasar, where the first direct flight from China in three years descended to an honor guard of traditionally dressed Balinese hostesses and lion dances to mark the Lunar New Year.

Meanwhile, at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Tiong King Sing this weekend personally welcomed Chinese visitors arriving from Fuzhou with Lunar New Year souvenirs.

In 2019, the Philippines and Indonesia welcomed 1.7 million and 2 million Chinese visitors, respectively. But like Thailand, this fell sharply last year to just 39,627 passengers in the Philippines and about 100,000 in Indonesia. Malaysia saw a similar decline but set an ambitious target of attracting 5 million Chinese tourists this year – a 60 percent increase on the 3.1 million that visited in 2019.

In a related development, Singapore’s government said this week it is on track to fully recover its tourism sector by 2024. The city-state saw 6.3 million visitors last year, according to tourism officials, down from 19.1 million recorded in 2019 but slightly more than the government’s forecast of 4-6 million.

Like its neighbours, Singapore is also expected to be boosted by the return of Chinese outbound travel. The country welcomed 3.6 million visitors from China in 2019, the country’s largest single source of foreign arrivals.

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