Thai prosecutors have charged 13 people from seven different Thai tour operators with ripping off Chinese tourists, as the Kingdom cracks down on scams targeting their most lucrative visitors.
China sends more people to Thailand than any other nation and tourism remains one of the few bright spots in the Kingdom’s economy.
But complaints have soared in recent years over dodgy tour guides and practices, particularly so-called “zero-dollar” scams.
Such schemes promise Chinese package tourists an impossibly cheap or free holiday only to pile on excessive charges once they arrive in Thailand.
“They are charged with organised crime offences, joint money laundering and illegally running tourist operations without permission,” deputy national police spokesman Colonel Krissana Pattanacharoen told AFP.
Jing Daily reports that while some Thai tourism stakeholders may be happy to see authorities taking on questionable industry practices, the recent crackdown and its effects on Chinese arrival numbers are beginning to take a toll on others.
Chula Sukmanop, head of the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT), says that three airlines have been so severely affected by the drop in Chinese tourists that they’re facing financial distress.
The three airlines have been requested to submit plans on how they’ll solve their financial problems to avoid having their services suspended entirely.
While CAAT declined to name the airlines, they are described as international airlines mainly servicing Chinese cities.
Nok Air, a budget carrier in which Thai Airways holds a significant stake, has put its planned expansion to more Chinese cities on hold.
The general manager of Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand’s biggest airport, told reporters that the number of Chinese tourists has dropped from 13,000/day in August to 4,000/day in September.
The Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA) reported a drop by more than 50%, and some tour agencies claim that 70% of Chinese tour groups canceled planned trips in response to the crackdown.
However, the Thai Sports and Tourism Minister, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, says that she remains confident that Chinese arrivals will reach 9.2 million in 2016, up from 7.9 million in 2015.