Japan and Thailand are two of the preferred places to go to in Asia.
But each are losing ground with Chinese nationals as safety concerns rise amongst younger travelers.
Each countries were the highest selections for Chinese holidaymakers earlier this 12 months but fell within the third quarter — Thailand to No. 6 and Japan to No. 8 — in accordance with the marketing company China Trading Desk, which gauges Chinese travel sentiment on a quarterly basis.
The discharge of treated radioactive wastewater from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean in August has significantly affected how Chinese people feel about traveling there, said Subramania Bhatt, CEO of China Trading Desk, the marketing agency behind the survey.
China Trading Desk’s survey of greater than 10,000 Chinese residents — 94% of whom are under the age of 40 — showed eating great food (23%) was the highest motivator for outbound travelers, topping local history and culture (22%), nature (22%) and shopping (10%).
The World Health Organization and other safety groups have said seafood from Japan is suitable for eating, but fears amongst Chinese travelers have “turned certainly one of their hottest destinations into certainly one of their least popular,” Bhatt said.
In a twist on the “set-jetting” trend — during which movies and tv shows attract tourists to go to their filming locations — several blockbuster movies released this summer are dissuading Chinese travelers from visiting Thailand.
Recent Chinese movies “Lost within the Stars” and “No More Bets” are each fictional, and neither is about in Thailand, but some say the plotlines closely mirror real-life events which have made headlines in recent times — including a Chinese woman who was pushed from a cliff by her husband in Thailand in 2019. (She broke 17 bones — but survived.)
This is particularly true of “No More Bets,” which follows a young couple lured to Southeast Asia to take recent jobs, only to get trapped in a web-based scamming compound — a situation the United Nations estimates is occurring to a whole bunch of 1000’s of individuals within the region.
Many compounds are within the border areas outside of Thailand — in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar — often in special economic zones where there’s “little to no rule of law,” in accordance with the United Nations. Victims come from across Southeast and South Asia, in addition to mainland China, Taiwan and whilst far as Latin America, it said.
The issue has grown because the Covid-19 pandemic, said Pia Oberoi, senior advisor on migration and human rights in Asia-Pacific for the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, because the clientele of casinos operators dwindled within the wake of Covid-related border shutdowns.
“A variety of compounds … have been repurposed by transnational crime groups into places during which persons are forced to sort of perform scams against other people. So we are saying there’s two sets of victims here … the folks that have been scammed in lots of cases from lots and plenty of money, but in addition others which are forced to participate in perpetrating these scams within the centers across the Southeast Asia region,” she told “Squawk Box Asia” on Monday.
Beyond scams, the areas are said to operate as “lawless playgrounds,” where trafficking of medication, wildlife and humans is rife.
“That is an incredibly lucrative business. There are billions of dollars which are being generated,” said Oberoi.
Rumors of dangers to travelers have spread across Chinese social media, but Oberoi noted she hasn’t seen any evidence of tourists “being snatched up off the streets and dragged into these centers.”
“The truth is, the methods of recruitment are literally far more sophisticated,” she said, which may include using recruitment platforms to present the impression job-seekers are headed to real jobs.
A person walks near a casino along the Myanmar-China border, that are known to be hotbeds for drug, wildlife and human trafficking.
Ye Aung Thu | Afp | Getty Images
She said governments are taking steps to intervene, but more must be done to interrupt up entrenched issues within the region related to corruption and enforcing the rule of law.
“We have seen a roadmap between ASEAN and the People’s Republic of China around law enforcement response, but what we actually need to place a deal with is, after all, the folks that have been caught up,” she told CNBC. “There’s been some horrific levels of violence and abuse seen by the folks that are being forced to commit these crimes.”
In 2019, some 11 million Chinese travelers visited Thailand — making China the country’s largest source marketplace for incoming visitors, in accordance with Reuters.
As of September, fewer than 2.5 million Chinese nationals have visited Thailand, in accordance with Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism & Sports — far lower than the 5 million Thai authorities projected would arrive this 12 months.
As for whether tourism — of all things — could exert economic pressure on Southeast Asian governments to do more, Oberoi said, “We hope that a human rights response sees a way forward — governments will understand that truly the fame of the country does rely on a comprehensive response.”
Cambodia has banned “No More Bets” from theaters, which hasn’t stopped it from grossing nearly $500 million in China, as of early September.
“Some viewers of ‘No More Bets’ have even expressed fears that traveling to the region could jeopardize their lives,” said China Trading Desk’s Bhatt. “Over time, Southeast Asia has increasingly grow to be related to danger, and what was once a preferred destination for outbound tourism has now acquired a negative connotation.”