Chinese tourists are returning to Phuket for the Chinese New Year after a six-month hiatus following last year’s Phoenix boat tragedy.
Forty-seven Chinese tourists drowned in the incident, including many children, after the boat capsized on July 5 in a late-afternoon storm as the tour boat was returning to Phuket.
In the following months, hotels were hit by thousands of cancellations and new bookings weren’t being made. Tourism Authority of Thailand officials were hoping the numbers would recover in the final quarter of 2018 but that did not happen despite the efforts of the Thai government to lure back the highly profitable Chinese arrivals.
Special ‘VIP’ immigration lanes at the airports and visa fee-waiver schemes did not immediately rekindle the interest of Chinese tourists, although they remained the highest number of arrivals on the island from any one country. Official numbers indicate the numbers dropped off 15-20 per cent although some businesses, who had actively chased the Chinese market, reported a much higher drop off in the fourth quarter.
But that has all changed as Phuket heads into the Chinese New Year celebrations for 2019.
Tourism officials and businesses say the Chinese are back, and in large numbers, for the annual holiday.
Hotel operators are reporting higher-than-usual bookings for the Chinese New Year festival, especially between February 2-10, according to the Thai Hotels Association.
“The average occupancy rate has risen to 90 per cent,” according to Kongsak Khuphongsakon, chairman of the southern region of Thai Hotels Association.