The Phuket tragedy of two tourist boats on July 5 this summer with the deaths of close to 50 Chinese visitors is having an effect according to studies released by ForwardKeys in cooperation with COTRI (China Outbound Research Institute).
As has been the case with similar tragedies given high-profile coverage in Chinese media in the past, a downturn in Chinese visitor numbers can be anticipated in the wake of the event. While the effects of the tragedy on safety conscious Chinese outbound travellers may not be visible in arrivals data for a few months, flight booking patterns allows for a more immediate insight into forthcoming impacts on tourist numbers. With over two months having elapsed since the Thai boating disaster, yet without arrivals statistics for this period having yet been published, the case study represents a prime opportunity to examine ForwardKeys flight booking data for the intervening weeks.
In the first six months of 2018, Thailand enjoyed record success in the Chinese outbound tourism market. With over 5.9 million Chinese arrivals in the first half of the year (a year-on-year growth rate of 25.9%), the country comfortably ranked ahead of regional rivals Japan (4.1m; +23.6% YoY), Vietnam (2.6m; +36.1% YoY) and South Korea (2.2m; -3.7% YoY) as the most popular destination for Chinese outbound tourists beyond the Greater China region.
This positive growth trend was accordingly reflected in flight bookings made in the period leading up to the event, with purchases being 8.4% higher between April 1 and July 5, 2018 than they had been the year before.
However, for the period starting the day following the accident (July 6) until September 4, ForwardKeys reports that there was a marked 52.3% decrease in purchases of flights from China to Thailand, while booking data also shows that travel to the country to be made during the coming Golden Week holidays between September 18 and October 8 will be down 27% year-on-year among Chinese customers. With bookings clearly taking a negative turn among the Chinese outbound market, a coming reversal of recent arrivals growth from China can be anticipated in the third quarter of 2018.
As bookings to Thailand among Chinese outbound travellers have declined, ForwardKeys data has shown concurrent increases in the purchase of flights to other regional destinations among Chinese consumers; in the two months following July 6, small increases have been seen in the purchase of Chinese trips to the Philippines and Singapore, marked growth in those to Vietnam and Cambodia and a 39.4% year-on-year increase in flight bookings to Malaysia.
Malaysia’s current success in attracting Chinese visitors, however, offers a cause for optimism for the Thai market amid its anticipated struggles: following the country’s downturn in tourist arrivals from China following 2014’s two Malaysia Airlines disasters, by late 2015 and early 2016 Malaysia was once again posting record numbers of Chinese visitor numbers. As of H1 2018, the country has replaced Taiwan as the eighth most-popular destination among Chinese outbound travellers. In spite of perceptions of danger for certain destinations, tourists’ memories can prove to be short.
Further in-depth Chinese outbound data built upon COTRI analysis and ForwardKeys’ flight data will be available in the forthcoming edition of the forthcoming Expert Session, which will be broadcast online on Wednesday 26th September in sessions appropriate for different time zones worldwide.