Japan and Thailand are two of the most popular places to visit in Asia.
But both are losing ground among Chinese nationals as security concerns rise among younger travelers.
Both countries were top choices for Chinese vacationers earlier this year, but fell in the third quarter – Thailand to 6th and Japan to 8th – according to marketing firm China Trading Desk, which gauges tourist confidence Chinese on a quarterly basis.
The release of radioactive wastewater treated by Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean in August has significantly affected the way Chinese people plan to travel there, said Subramania Bhatt, CEO of China Trading Desk, the marketing agency behind the survey.
China Trading Desk’s survey of more than 10,000 Chinese citizens – 94% of whom are under the age of 40 – found that eating good food (23%) was the top motivator for outbound travelers , ahead of local history and culture (22%), nature (22%) and shopping (10%).
The World Health Organization and other safety groups have said Japanese seafood is safe to eatbut Chinese travelers’ fears have “turned one of their most popular destinations into one of their least popular,” Bhatt said.
In a twist on the “set throw” trend – in which films and TV shows attract tourists to visit their filming locations – several blockbuster films released this summer are deterring Chinese travelers from visiting Thailand.
Recent Chinese films »Lost in the stars” And “Nothing is going well anymore” are both fictional and neither set in Thailand, but some say the storylines accurately reflect real-life events that have made headlines in recent years – including a Chinese incident. woman who was pushed off a cliff by her husband in Thailand in 2019. (She broke 17 bones — but survived.)
That’s especially true in “No More Bets,” which follows a young couple lured to Southeast Asia to take on new jobs, only to find themselves trapped in an online scam complex – a situation that According to United Nations estimates, this happens to hundreds of thousands of people in the region.
Many resorts are in border areas outside Thailand – in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar – often in special economic zones where there is “little or no rule of law”, according to the United Nations. Victims come from across Southeast and South Asia, as well as mainland China, Taiwan and even Latin America, the statement said.
The problem has worsened since the Covid-19 pandemic, said Pia Oberoi, senior adviser on migration and human rights in Asia-Pacific for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, as casino operators’ customer base declined in the wake of Covid. – linked border closures.
“A number of complexes… have been repurposed by transnational criminal groups into places where people are forced to commit fraud against other people. So we’re saying there are two groups of victims here… people who have been scammed in many cases for lots and lots of money, but also others who are forced to participate in these scams in the centers of the Southeast Asian region,” she told “Squawk Box Asia” on Monday.
Beyond the scams, the zones would function as “lawless playgrounds,” where drug, wildlife and human trafficking are commonplace.
“It’s an incredibly lucrative business. Billions of dollars are generated,” Oberoi said.
Rumors of dangers for travelers spread on Chinese social media, but Oberoi noted that she had not seen any evidence of tourists “ripped off the streets and dragged into these centers.”
“In fact, the recruitment methods are actually much more sophisticated,” she explained, which can include the use of recruitment platforms to give the impression that job seekers are heading for real jobs.
A man walks near a casino along the Myanmar-China border, known to be a hotbed of drug, wildlife and human trafficking.
Ye Aung Game | Afp | Getty Images
She said governments were taking steps to intervene, but more needed to be done to address the region’s deep-rooted problems related to corruption and respect for the rule of law.
“We have seen a road map between ASEAN and the People’s Republic of China regarding the law enforcement response, but what we really want to focus on, of course, is the people who have been caught up,” she told CNBC. “There were horrific levels of violence and abuse by those forced to commit these crimes.”
In 2019, some 11 million Chinese travelers visited Thailand, making China the country’s largest source market for inbound visitors, according to Reuters.
In September, less than 2.5 million Chinese nationals visited Thailand, according to the Thai Ministry of Tourism and Sports, much less than the 5 million planned by the Thai authorities this year.
As for whether tourism – among other things – could put economic pressure on Southeast Asian governments to do more, Oberoi said: “We hope that a human rights response man will lead the way into the future – governments will understand that in reality, the country’s reputation depends on a comprehensive response.”
Cambodia banned “No More Bets” from cinemas, but that didn’t stop it from bringing in nearly $500 million in Chinafrom the beginning of September.
“Some ‘No More Bets’ viewers even expressed fears that traveling to the region could put their lives at risk,” said Bhatt of China Trading Desk. “Over time, Southeast Asia has become increasingly associated with danger, and what was once a popular destination for outbound tourism has now acquired a negative connotation.”