By Janjira Jarusupawat
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)'s Chiang Mai office expects the number of tourists from China to increase by at least 20 per cent this year from 2012, driven by the huge success of the Chinese film "Lost in Thailand". More than 80 per cent of the
However, the local service sector, including tour agencies, needs to improve its capabilities, especially in the area of Chinese-speaking personnel, if it is to cash in on the growth of Chinese visitors, tourism officials said.
Visoot Buachum, director of the TAT’s Chiang Mai office, said the number of Chinese tourists visiting Thailand grew 50 per cent year on year in 2012 to between 2.5 million and 2.6 million. The number of Chinese tourists visiting Chiang Mai rose from 70,000 in 2011 to about 80,000 last year.
Sorapop Chuaedamrong, vice president of the Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce, said “‘Lost in Thailand’ fever” had encouraged Chinese tourists to visit Chiang Mai, where most of the film was shot. The film hit screens in China in December and is credited with trebling the number of Chinese visitors to Chiang Mai at the end of last year.
“I believe in the capability of Chiang Mai province in terms of accommodation, hospitality, tourist attractions and restaurants. What concerns us is the language issue. Most Chinese tourists cannot communicate in English – only Chinese. Meanwhile, many local employees in our service sector rely on English to communicate with inbound tourists and they may face problems in speaking with Chinese people. Business operators should solve this problem in the short term by recruiting staff or recent graduates who are able to speak Chinese,” he said.
“Chiang Mai itself has a good tourism foundation, such as government-funded attractions like the Chiang Mai Night Safari and the Royal Park Ratchaphruek. Aside from leisure activities, many visitors from China are also looking for business opportunities. Chiang Mai province itself should capitalise on this point by establishing a centre to provide trade and business information to Chinese visitors,” he said.
Songwit Itthipattanakul, managing director of Standard Tour, a leading tour agency in Chiang Mai, said the number of individual tourists from China visiting Chiang Mai had increased dramatically since the end of last year. Chinese tourists visiting the northern city at the end of 2011 accounted for at least 7-8 per cent of the total number of Chinese tourists in Thailand in the period, up from only 5 per cent on average in previous years.
“We expect to receive growing numbers of Chinese tourists throughout this year, especially during the Chinese New Year festival to be held in February. Many Chinese tourists are now backpacking, as opposed to taking group tours. Encouraging factors are the direct flights connecting Chiang Mai with Chinese destinations such as Macao and Kunming. The situation will improve if airlines add more direct flights between Chiang Mai and other cities in China such as Guangzhou and Shanghai,” Songwit said.