Sheltered from shell shock (China Daily)

The Bangkok bombings’ fallout on Chinese visitors is perhaps yet to emerge – beyond the current dent. Yang Feiyue reports.

Bangkok’s bombings haven’t rattled Chinese tourists to Thailand – much. At least for now.

Beijing resident Zhang Guangqi, for one, decided to stick to his plan to travel to Thailand after bombings rocked the Thai capital on Aug 17 – 18.

“Incidents happen everywhere,” he said on Aug 21, before leaving for a nine-day trip ending Aug 29.

“I doubt the attacks were perpetuated by worshiping locals. I don’t think they’d cause problems at holy sites.”

He has visited the country five times and is fascinated by its food, island views and nightlife.

Major Chinese travel agencies aren’t yet reporting significant cancelations of trips to Thailand.

“It’s business as usual,” Yan Xin, publicity officer for China’s largest online travel agency, Ctrip, says.

But the Thai tourism authority’s Beijing office says the attacks may have made a dent.

Seven Chinese – five from the mainland and two from Hong Kong – were among the more than 20 killed in the first blast, at the Erawan Shrine. More than 120 people were injured.

China advised citizens to exercise caution in Thailand. Chinese travel agencies are also cautioning against visiting crowded sites.

Thai Airways’ passenger volumes have dropped 20-30 percent, says a marketing manager at the office, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Flight volumes remain the same. There are about 62 from Beijing to the country weekly.

“We’ve noticed fewer tourists are paying attention to various travel agencies’ packages during the September-October period – a golden time for Chinese travel to Thailand,” the manager says.

Ctrip is sending 500-600 group travelers a day, Yan says.

It sent about 1,100 Chinese to Thailand on Aug 20 and that day made arrangements for more than 4,000 other Chinese in Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya and Chiang Mai.

Beijing Utour International Travel Service’s publicity manager, Li Mengran, admits the attacks have influenced Chinese tourists.

“Travelers put safety first,” Li says. “Many of our customers have explicitly said they wouldn’t go to Thailand and many changed their travel plans.”

The litmus test will be the upcoming National Day holiday week starting Oct 1, she says. Many Chinese make last-minute reservations to Thailand before the holiday. It’s an affordable destination within five hours’ flight of Beijing.

Most Utour bookings during the period are to the United States and Europe.

Li’s company suggests similar destinations like Bali to tourists with cold feet.

But it costs money to back out of reservations, since China hasn’t issued a travel ban.

“Individual travelers’ losses mainly come from flights and hotels,” Yan says.

Tourists normally get 95 percent of their money back if they cancel 15-29 days in advance, according to China’s tourism laws. It’s 40-30 percent if they cancel one to three days before.

Hotels and airlines haven’t announced cancellation policies. Costs have remained steady since the bombings.

Ctrip charges 5,600-5,900 yuan ($873-920) for most September trips.

Prices surge to 7,600-8,800 yuan at the month’s end and start of the National Day holiday week.

Chinese travel to Thailand surged over the summer. It has become the top destination for Ctrip bookings.

But the swell is partly relative to cancelations following last May’s coup.

About 4 million Chinese visited over the first six months of 2015, up 110 percent over the same period in 2014, Thai tourism authority data show.

Chinese tourists spent 1.9 billion baht ($53.5 million) during the period – a 140 percent increase.

Chinese love Thailand for its tourism offerings and proximity.

Office workers can visit over long weekends, Li explains.

“It’s a typical Southeast Asian country with exotic elements. And Thailand is a cost-competitive destination for Chinese.”

Tourists from every corner of the globe have long been drawn to Thailand’s beaches, elephants and “ladyboy” shows.

Zhang paid 4,100 yuan for all flights and hotel costs during the trip and plans to visit Pattaya, Koh Samet and Chiang Mai.

He didn’t feel the explosions’ shock waves.

“I’ve seen lots of Chinese tourists in Bangkok,” Zhang said on Aug 24.

“Siam Square’s shopping plazas around are still very crowded.”

Erik Nilsson contributed to the story

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(China Daily 08/26/2015 page19)