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Chinese arrivals in Thailand down

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BANGKOK: Chinese hotel bookings to Thailand for the Lunar New Year have tumbled as a crackdown on cheap package tours hits visitor numbers from its biggest source of holiday-makers.

Between 2012 and last year, the number of Chinese visitors trebled to nearly a third of all Thailand's tourists by numbers and revenue.

But a crackdown on "zero-dollar" package tours in September sent that into reverse, with little sign of recovery ahead of the New Year holiday from Jan 28 to Feb 2.

"It's the crackdown," Mr Ruengdet Amorndetphakdee said. The D Land Holiday Co. Ltd caters to Chinese tourists. There are only 300 bookings for the New Year compared to 800 last year, its owner said.

Tristar Floating Restaurant has six cruise ships for Chinese visitors - now it operates only one.Other hotel groups, including Central Plaza Hotel, said Chinese bookings had fallen.

Zero-dollar tourists pay everything up front. Operators cut any cost they can while tourists are sometimes cajoled into buying over-priced souvenirs so the company earns a commission. Those are the practices Thailand wants to stop.

But the government's insistence on a minimum 1,000 baht (S$40) per night charge for package tourists have made Thailand uncompetitive for many Chinese visitors, tour operators say.

"We weren't prepared for this," Chanapan Kaewklachaiyawuth, secretary-general of Thai-Chinese Tourism Alliance Association, told Reuters.

Chinese tourists boarding a sightseeing boat at a pier at Chao Phraya River in Bangkok in October, and at the same location on Wednesday (above). PHOTO:REUTERS

Thailand nonetheless forecasts that Chinese tourist numbers will recover to reach nine million by the end of the year and just top last year's total.