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Thailand's largest retail conglomerate hopes to attract more high-end Chinese tourists with a new luxurious shopping mall, following an upsurge in visitors over the past year and even greater numbers expected this year.
Central Embassy, a 10 billion-baht ($336 million) project in the heart of Bangkok, regards Chinese travelers as one of its top targets after its shopping mall section opened in December, said Chart Chirathivat, managing director of the project under the Central Retail Corp.
A Chinese tourist (left) pays a bill with the help of a translator in Central Chidlom, a flagship store in Bangkok, on Monday. ZHAO SHENGNAN / CHINA DAILY
"Despite a lower economic growth rate than before, China is seeking sustainable growth, and a large number of Chinese are still wealthy and keen on buying luxurious goods during the global recession," he said.
China replaced Malaysia as the biggest source of tourists to Thailand, with 1.94 million arrivals in the first nine months of 2012, up 39 percent year-on-year, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
More than 4,000 Chinese had annual incomes of more than $1.6 billion in 2011, said Chart, citing a report, and adding that those people had not changed their travel and consuming habits despite the world economic recession, and that their interest in brand-name products had grown.
According to a survey by Travelzoo, the US-based global Internet media company covering travel and entertainment, Chinese citizens spend on average $874 each on shopping during an overseas foreign trip, and are the biggest spenders in Asia.
"The objective of Central Embassy is not merely to construct a shopping mall, but to create a new symbol on the Bangkok skyline that will attract new groups of tourists to spend more money in our country," Chart said.
Since the city has no iconic modern buildings, the unique-shaped structure has "an iconic architecture that all Thai people are proud of", he added.
Thailand, the second-largest Southeast Asian economy, which has recovered from devastating floods in 2011 and political instability the previous year, expects to welcome 3 million Chinese visitors this year, according to its tourism authority.
Tourism is a vital part of Thailand's economy, employing about 15 percent of the workforce and contributing about 6 percent of GDP, Reuters reported.
Song Meidan, a manager from a Beijing-based travel agency, said the estimated increase in Chinese tourists this year will most likely be due to the strong influence of the Chinese cinema box office hit Lost in Thailand.
Around 38 million people are said to have watched the movie in one month, shot in north Thailand's Chiang Mai.
"Thailand used to be the first overseas tourist destination for Chinese due to its relatively low prices compared with other popular destinations," said Song. "But as the number of Chinese tourists going there has been soaring, there has been a greater need for high-end services too."
Zhou Fangye, a researcher on Thai studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Bangkok has been a commercial hub of Southeast Asia for decades, and its role will be further strengthened after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Economic Community, a single regional market with more than 600 million people, opens in 2015.
"What the city may lack is its brand or creativity," said Zhou.
Thailand, including the Central Embassy, is preparing to welcome the Chinese tourist rush by providing more customized services, such as Chinese language guides and exclusive facilities in the shopping mall, said Chart.
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