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Thailand struggles to win back Chinese tourists during Golden Week holiday

FILE PHOTO: Chinese tourists visit the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok, Thailand August 19, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File photo

(reuters_tickers)

By Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panarat Thepgumpanat

BANGKOK (Reuters) - As China kicked off its "Golden Week" holiday on Monday, Thailand said it was struggling to lure back visitors from its biggest source of tourists, after a boat accident in July that killed dozens.

Lured by Thailand's proximity and plentiful attractions, visitors from China accounted for nearly a third of last year's record 35.38 million arrivals in the Southeast Asian nation.

But a Thai tourism official said he expected arrivals during the Chinese holiday to dip 1 percent this year.

"The decrease is because the boat incident has affected our safety image," said Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

The agency has rounded down its forecast of Chinese arrivals for the year to 10.5 million from 11 million, he added.

Thailand has tried to lure back Chinese tourists by offering special immigration lanes at key airports, and is also considering offering them a double-entry visa.

In July, Chinese arrivals fell 0.9 percent from a year earlier for their first drop since the start of 2017, when the government cracked down on cheap tour packages.

Tourism experts blamed a July boat disaster off the coast of Phuket that killed 47 Chinese in Thailand's worst tourist-related disaster in years, underscoring concerns over the kingdom's lax attitude to safety.

Chinese tourist arrivals continued to fall in August, plunging 11.77 percent from a year earlier, tourism ministry data showed.

Industry experts had hoped that Golden Week, which runs from Oct. 1 to Oct. 7 this year and is one of China's most popular holidays, would bring back its tourists, but that appears not to be the case.

The government said it had cut by 11.5 percent its forecast for the number of Chinese arrivals for the six months from July, to 5.1 million.

(Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Clarence Fernandez)

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