Thailand’s tourism has struggled in recent years. A downturn in tourism is always to be expected in the years following a military coup, but 13 years on, Thailand’s tourism industry has struggled to return to its pre-coup levels.
However, while the industry has struggled overall, China has provided a steady stream of visitors. Until recently that is.
A Drop in Chinese Visitors
Obviously, proximity has always played a part in the number of Chinese tourists who travel through Thailand, they are separated only by the very edges of Laos and Myanmar. But understanding the drop-off in visitors from China is more about who is visiting than what they are doing.
China is the world’s second-largest economy and has been growing consistently for years. You can debate whether the Chinese economy is built on lies, but there is no denying the effect that economic growth is having.
China is on a trajectory that sees it becoming a bona fide superpower in the next decade. The rapid economic growth has led to an explosion of the number of middle-class Chinese citizens, citizens who are empowered to travel and spend in a way that their predecessors weren’t.
The Indian Connection
As the average Chinese citizen has become wealthier, they have become more likely to travel further afield. It’s possible that a tragic boat accident in Phuket in 2018, in which 47 Chinese people died, had an impact on the drop in Chinese tourists, but it seems unlikely that it accounts entirely for the drop by itself.
However, India is a nation that is comparable to China in a number of ways – it has a population of over 1 billion people, is in the same geographic area, and, most importantly, has a rapidly expanding middle class.
India’s economic development hasn’t been as dramatic as China’s, which is hamstrung by pesky things like democracy and human rights, but it has still been prodigious.
India is experiencing the same boom that China went through previously. While inequality in India remains at staggeringly high levels, more and more people are being lifted out of poverty. Citizens who couldn’t previously afford to travel out of the country now view Thailand (learn how to get to Phi Phi island here) as a great nearby vacation spot.
The value of outbound tourism from India is expected to hit $56 billion by 2020 – Indian citizens are travelling around the world in a way that they weren’t before. It’s not just Thailand that has seen an increase, but the specific circumstances of India’s development mean that it is able to almost perfectly replace the drop in tourists from China.
Both India and China are following similar paths, but India is just a little behind China in the economic race. However, the Indian economy is backed by a democratic, pluralistic society. In China, the Communist Party has been able to accelerate the country’s development at the cost of human dignity.
India’s outbound travellers replacing Chinese tourists in Thailand might not seem like a big deal. but it is emblematic of a wider trend. As India gathers pace running in China’s footsteps, a booming middle class will change the way that Indian citizens live and travel.