Thai economic outlook cloudy as tourist numbers drop

BANGKOK • Thailand suffered a rare drop in tourist arrivals in October as Chinese stayed away, keeping the country’s economic outlook cloudy.

Overall arrivals fell 0.5% from a year earlier, the first decline since early 2017, according to Tourism Ministry figures and data compiled by Bloomberg. Chinese visitors slid almost 20%, Permanent Secretary for Tourism Pongpanu Svetarundra said in a briefing yesterday in Bangkok.

The decline is a risk for growth as Chinese are the top source of foreign receipts in the tourism industry, which on some estimates makes up about a fifth of the economy. At the same time, October exports data released yesterday showed a rebound from a September tumble, providing some relief.

A tour boat accident off Phuket in July that killed dozens of Chinese holidaymakers has weighed on visitor growth after sparking safety worries and damaging Thailand’s image on the mainland.

The military government is seeking to woo tourists by rolling out steps such as temporary visa-free entry for more nationalities. Overall arrivals are expected to climb to almost 40 million in 2019, from about 38 million this year, according to the National Economic and Social Development Board.

The agency said on Monday it expects the government to do all it can to win back Chinese tourists, after reporting the weakest Thai economic growth since 2016. Moderating exports, tourism, public expenditure and agriculture sector prices slowed the expansion to 3.3% last quarter. – Bloomberg