From quiet beaches in Bali to empty rooms in Hanoi’s hotels, pangs from China’s economic malaise and weakening yuan are being felt across Southeast Asia’s vacation belt.
A boom in Chinese outbound travel in recent years that stoked tourism across Southeast Asia is now in reverse gear. The abrupt decline of Chinese travelers is becoming a painful lesson for nations such as Thailand and Indonesia that had become overly dependent on Asia’s top economy.
“The slump in Chinese arrivals and tourism spending is being felt throughout the region,” said Kampon Adireksombat, Bangkok-based head of economic and financial market research at Siam Commercial Bank PCL. “There’s always a concentration risk when relying on one market, and many countries may not be able to find a replacement for growth fast enough.”
The slump is expected to continue next year if the trade war continues to weigh down the Chinese economy, he said.
Rising incomes over the past decade fueled the wanderlust of middle-class Chinese consumers, making them the world’s largest outbound travel market, according to a McKinsey report, with the total number of outbound trips more than doubling from 57 million trips in 2010 to 131 million trips in 2017.
“Southeast Asia is usually the first destination for Chinese travelers when they opt for farther destinations,” the report said.
McKinsey’s 2017 “China Outbound Traveler Survey” showed that the highest number of package trips were booked to Southeast Asia.
Mandarin-speaking tours, Chinese eateries and Chinese mobile payment services mushroomed from Danang to Yogyakarta, these travelers thronged to Southeast Asian hotspots, lured by their proximity and familiar cuisines.
The pullback now threatens the tourism industry with pockets of overcapacity, after companies and local governments doubled down and poured millions of dollars into expanding resorts, hotels and travel facilities.
The decline is already showing up in some hotel operators’ results.
Thailand’s Central Plaza Hotel PCL reported a softening of its hotel business in the second quarter due to decreasing Chinese demand, senior vice president Ronnachit Mahattanapruet said at an investor briefing last month.
Occupancy in its Thai properties dropped 7 percent in the quarter, and the Bangkok-based operator has 2,040 rooms in the pipeline to add to its existing portfolio of 6,678 rooms.
The Thai capital is also expecting a new Ritz Carlton by 2023 as part of a US$3.9 billion development, while Hilton will manage two hotels due for 2022 opening.
On the island of Phuket, a favorite for beachfront weddings and scuba diving, there will be 18 percent more hotel rooms by 2024, according to consultancy C9 Hotelworks.
International arrivals in Thailand this year so far have grown only 2 percent, data from Thai Ministry of Tourism and Sports show.
“The supply was based on people’s unrealistic expectations,” C9 managing director Bill Barnett said.
In Singapore, casino operators Las Vegas Sands Corp and Genting Singapore Ltd announced a US$9 billion expansion of their resorts earlier this year after the country’s skyline was beamed across cineplexes as the setting of the Hollywood hit Crazy Rich Asians.
Marriott International Inc has 140 hotels in the pipeline across the region, with plans to more than triple its portfolio by 2023 in the Philippines, whose white-sand beaches and turquoise waters are such a draw that the island of Boracay had to close last year for upgrades to its sewage system.