Thailand expects 7m Chinese visitors in 2015, despite Bangkok bomb

BANGKOK - Thailand expects a record 7 million visitors from China in 2015 compared with 4.63 million last year, the tourism minister said on Friday, despite a bomb attack at a major tourist spot that killed 20 people, more than half of them foreigners.

Tourism is one of the few bright spots in an economy that has been stubbornly underperforming more than a year after the military seized power in a May 2014 coup, with exports stumbling and domestic consumption subdued.

Tourism accounts for about 10 per cent of Southeast Asia's second-largest economy and a record 28.8 million visitors are expected this year compared with 25.5 million in 2014.

Minister of Tourism Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul attributed the high level of Chinese arrivals to confidence in the investigation of the Aug. 17 blast at a famous Bangkok shrine, Thailand's worst ever bomb attack.

Two men have been detained on suspicion of carrying out the attack which authorities believe stemmed from a crackdown on people-smuggling.

"Tourists have confidence again after we arrested the perpetrators," Kobkarn told reporters. "They have confidence in the government, police and the army."

Fourteen foreigners - seven from mainland China and Hong Kong - were among the 20 people killed but that seems to have done little to deter Chinese visitors. "The impact was only temporary, and right now they are back," Kobkarn said.

In August, more than 800,000 people from China visited Thailand, the highest monthly total this year. The figure slipped to 500,000 in September.

But tourism authorities expect October's figure to recover with a week-long National Day holiday in China, known as "Golden Week", likely to have contributed to a large numbers of Chinese visitors.

From January to September, Chinese tourists accounted for 27.6 per cent of all international arrivals in Thailand.

Tourism is expected to bring in 2.2 trillion baht (S$86.3 billion) in revenue this year, the ministry said.