8imgSeeing the World

Until the 2014 military coup, Thailand had emerged as one of the hottest destinations for Chinese tourists. Driven by the comedy Lost in Thailand (the film, released in 2012, became the first domestic Chinese movie to cross the $1 billion renminbi (RMB) threshold, which is $160 million), Chinese tourists flocked to the land of smiles.

The year before the movie's release, 1.7 million Chinese visited, reaching 4.7 million in 2013. American tourists comparatively declined from 694,000 to 611,000 between 2006 and 2010. In 2013, in a China Market Research Group (CMR) survey of 1,000 consumers in eight cities, Thailand was on the list of countries 87 percent of respondents said they expected to visit in the next five years.

One sunny day in Khao Lak, a beachside town on the Andaman Sea, I met one of Thailand's biggest hotel investors. As we sat under swaying palm trees and the bright sun, drinking coconut milk, the hotelier told me guests from mainland China and Russia accounted for 70 percent of occupancy in his prime luxury hotel in Phuket, up from 5 percent three years earlier. More than Europeans, these newcomers splurged on the most expensive suites and villas.

Facing spending cutbacks from his main French and German clientele, we strategized how to attract more mainland tourists to his existing properties when he suddenly remarked, “I'm not sure I want to cater ...

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