Thailand in the Lead

Thailand in the Lead

It’s no secret that China’s outbound tourism market is soaring, and that China is expected to become the world’s largest source of outbound tourists by 2020. Thailand is just one of many countries that have felt the positive effects of this growing market on the country’s revenue from tourism. 

Thai tourism officials expect Chinese tourists to soon become the largest source market for outbound tourists to Thailand, and if visitor numbers during the first six months of 2012 are an indication of future trends, the Chinese may be on track to overtake Malaysia’s visitor numbers sooner than expected. Data from the Ministry of Tourism and Sports indicates that 1.12 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand between January and June 2012, compared to 1.11 million Malaysian tourists, with 2012 figures already indicating that the number of Chinese travelling to Thailand is likely to be higher compared to 2011.

Thailand’s relaxed visa policies are one aspect that makes the country appealing to Chinese, for whom overseas travel is not the straightforward procedure that it is for European or American passport holders. But visa policies alone are not enough of a draw on their own, and a closer look at where most Chinese tourists choose to go for their holiday provides insight into the preferences and tendencies of this influential market.

According to an article in Jing Daily this February, there is a growing tendency among Chinese tourists toward what is termed “therapeutic tourism”, in contrast to the shopping sprees for which Chinese tourists owe much of their reputation. Since the Maldives became the most popular international country for Chinese tourists, Southeast Asian destinations like Malaysia and Thailand have begun branding themselves as therapeutic retreats, in which the busy, career oriented or stressed can unwind. The breathtaking islands of Phuket, Koh Samui and Krabi are, apparently, well suited to relaxation-oriented holidays such as these.

The Amanpuri Resort is a luxury hotel in Phuket that is particularly popular with Chinese tourists. The beach resort has a reputation for personalized service and its setting – a coconut plantation overlooking the Andaman Sea – is almost certain to instill calm. Its emphasis is on cruises, scuba diving and golf within the beautiful natural surroundings – rather than shopping or casinos – which may hold special appeal for Chinese who wish to distance themselves from the familiar trappings of their city lives.  

Hotels such as the Amanpuri Resort, with its emphasis on nature and outdoor relaxation have proven to be competitive within the Chinese market. And, while world class luxury hotels are almost always equipped with spa facilities, overworked Chinese urbanites seeking rest and recuperation are likely to gravitate towards hotels where exceptional spa facilities in natural surroundings can be treated as attractions in their own right. The popularity of packages that combine therapeutic tourism with medical tourism is an extension of this trend.

Some of Thailand’s leading resorts have gone in a different direction, and focused their energy on paying meticulous attention to detail, tailoring their services to the needs of mainland Chinese tourists. Hilton Hotels and Resorts, with its “Huanying Hilton” program, has become something of a pioneer within the Chinese tourism market. In August last year, “Huanying Hilton” was launched in 50 of the Hilton’s hotels in 13 countries. Within Thailand, the Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort and Spa and the Hilton Pattaya Hotel were among them.

“Huanying” means welcome in Mandarin, and the Hilton’s program’s aim is to provide Chinese guests with some of the familiar creature comforts of home, specifically in-room kettles and tea, bedroom slippers, Chinese television channels, and Chinese speakers at the hotel’s reception desks. A specially designed breakfast menu caters to Chinese palates and includes congee, fried rice or noodles, a choice of dim sum, fried dough sticks, hard boiled eggs, fresh fruit, and a variety of Chinese teas and soy milk. Huanying Hilton was partly inspired by similar programs that catered to an exploding Japanese market during the seventies and eighties.

Identifying exactly which of the efforts being made within Thailand’s tourism industry are most effective is tricky, but steady growth rates indicate that the country – world renowned for its hospitality – is doing something right. The Tourism of Authority of Thailand will continue to target the lucrative Chinese market in various advertising drives throughout 2012, one of which features a Thai pop star singing in Mandarin with some of the country’s leading tourist attractions as a backdrop.
According to People’s Daily newspaper, the director general of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Suraphon Svetasreni, said it is his intention to continue promoting tourism on the country’s most scenic islands, but also to draw the attention of Chinese tourists to the country’s cultural attractions, centered on historical cities such as Chiang Mai. Therapy, it is said, comes in many forms.

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