China's economic woes are pressuring inbound tourism during the Golden Week holiday in October, leading to sluggish forward bookings, according to tourism operators.
Surawat Akaraworamat, vice-president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, said travel agents reported slower booking than usual for China National Day, one of the longest holidays in that country.
Mr Surawat said the decline is attributed to a sluggish economic recovery that is taking a toll on spending as deflation looms.
In the property sector, giant company Country Garden missed a bond payment, leading to concerns about the domestic economy.
The Chinese government is also promoting domestic tourism to stimulate local consumption, he said.
Regarding the slow tourist visa application process for Chinese visitors, Mr Surawat said he believes this is not a major factor for the decline in arrivals, with economic woes the main culprit.
He said the process has been eased as the Department of Consular Affairs vowed to improve its approval system. Many Chinese tourists can also choose visa-on-arrival as an alternative method.
Mr Surawat said as China continues to promote exports and has business travellers visiting other countries, Thailand should ramp up marketing towards the Mice (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) segment and independent tourists, instead of focusing on tour groups.
He predicted Thailand could tally 500,000 Chinese visitors per month in the fourth quarter because of higher flight capacity. The country welcomed 1 million visitors per month from the mainland in 2019.
Prachoom Tantiprasertsuk, chairperson for marketing at the Thai Hotels Association, said hotels in Phuket are gradually gaining bookings from Chinese tourists during Golden Week, though they remain subdued compared with past years because of limited flight supply and tepid economic growth.
However, Phuket can expect a promising high season thanks to long-haul travellers from Europe and Russia, she said.
These markets are increasing bookings in October, which is a month ahead of their usual travel period, said Ms Prachoom. This should help increase the occupancy rate and diversify the market to offset China's slowdown.
Despite the lower volume, inbound Chinese tourists have relatively high spending power, especially young couples and families with stable jobs and wealth, she said.
Ms Prachoom said these groups have not been affected by the downturn and tend to stay longer and spend more in hotels. Hotels have been able to adjust their daily room rates, she said.
Many hotels hired more staff to prepare for the high season, as some operators are concerned about a labour shortage in the final quarter, said Ms Prachoom.