© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Passengers wearing face masks following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak sit in a sightseeing bus during a night tour, ahead of the Chinese National Day Golden Week holiday in Beijing, China September 26, 2022. REUTERS/Florence Lo/
By Chayut Setboonsarng
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Overseas travel bookings from mainland China are currently at just over half of pre-pandemic levels but are on course to return to the 2019 numbers by the end of this year or early 2024, the head of online travel agency Agoda said on Thursday.
China was the world’s largest outbound tourism market before the pandemic with annual spending of $255 billion. The country reopened earlier this year after removing most of its pandemic restrictions, giving a big boost to outbound travel.
“China recovery is expediting, a little higher than half way versus 2019 levels,” Omri Morgenshtern told reporters on Thursday, adding that was “still some way off” the 2019 figures for the first five months.
“They will close the gap by end of the year or early next year,” he said.
A major beneficiary of that reopening was Thailand, one of Asia’s most popular travel spots. The top overseas destinations for Chinese tourists were Hong Kong, Bangkok and the Thai island of Phuket, Agoda data showed.
The Bangkok-based company is a unit of online travel giant, Booking Holdings (NASDAQ:).
Tourism is a crucial driver of Thailand’s economy and accounted for 12% of the economy before the pandemic. In 2019 the country recorded nearly 40 million foreign tourists who spent 1.91 trillion baht ($54.89 billion).
Of that, China was the biggest source market with 11 million arrivals.
About 80% of Chinese tourists have returned to Thailand, Morgenshtern said, attributing that faster rate of recovery to Thailand dropping restrictions on Chinese arrivals sooner than other markets.
Thailand expects about 30 million arrivals for the full year with five million from China.
Overall bookings to Thailand have fully recovered, Morgenshtern said, but that there was potential for growth especially with tourists from India and South Korea by reducing arrival restrictions and increasing airline capacity.
Thailand so far this year received 11.4 million foreign arrivals who spent 472 billion baht.
($1 = 34.8000 baht)