Chinese women fuel Thai tourism boom

Tourists pray at Erawan Shrine, a Hindu shrine popular among tourists in central Bangkok, Thailand. The number of Chinese women visiting Thailand nearly quadrupled from 2012 to last year. (Reuters)
Updated 20 October 2017
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Chinese women fuel Thai tourism boom

BANGKOK: For decades since the Vietnam war, the scantily clad dancers in the go-go bars of Bangkok’s Patpong red-light district have been the face of Thailand’s tourism industry.
But last year for the first time, the country drew more women tourists than men as a surge in Chinese female visitors outweighed a longstanding distortion spurred by men drawn to the world’s “sex capital.”
The shift is welcome news for Thai authorities, who have tried to promote the country’s shopping, beaches and temples and to minimize the importance of sex tourism, which thrived after Thailand became an R&R hotspot for US troops in the 1960s and 1970s.
Tourism ministry figures reviewed by Reuters showed 52 percent of more than 32 million visitors last year were women.
That compared to 48 percent in 2015 and only 42 percent in 2012. No earlier official data were available, but research from as far back as the 1980s shows a ratio of about 60 percent male to 40 percent female visitors.
“Not as many women visited Thailand because they thought we were a cheap destination with too much vice, but now more are coming, which means our image accommodates them,” Tourism Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul told Reuters.
Tourism accounts for around 12 percent of Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy and is easily the fastest growing sector, particularly since a coup in 2014.
Hoping to attract more female tourists, the state’s Tourism Authority of Thailand started a “Women’s Journey” campaign last year, with a website and mobile application offering discounts for hotels, spas, malls, and restaurants.
But the biggest factor has been tourism from China, which has reshaped the industry around the world.
The number of Chinese visitors rose from nearly 12 percent of Thailand’s visitors in 2012 to 27 percent last year. The number of Chinese women visiting Thailand nearly quadrupled over the same period to more than 5.3 million.
“When Chinese men make a lot of money, they tend to take their wife, daughter, and mother to travel, making the ratio heavier on the female side,” said Virat Chatturaputpitak, vice president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents.
Major Chinese travel website Tuniu reported that 62 percent of its customers last year were women, Chinese media reported.
“I chose to come to Thailand because it’s close by, there are many flights, it’s cheap to travel and easy to get a visa,” said Man Na Zhang, 24, at Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine, a favorite spot for Chinese tourists despite a deadly bombing in 2015.
Chinese female visitors, who get a tourist visa on arrival, also cited a simple tax rebate procedure on duty free goods as another drawcard as they snap up items such as cosmetics, bottled bird’s nest soup, vitamins and supplements.
Many stores in Bangkok’s shopping malls now accept Alipay, China’s giant online payment service. A Big C supermarket near the Erawan shrine buzzes with Chinese tourists who fill their trolleys with bulk packets Tom Yum Goong flavored instant noodles, crispy seaweed and dried squid snacks.
Businesses in tourist towns have started printing menus in Chinese and getting workers to learn the language to cater to Chinese tourists, who last year made up more than those from Europe, the Americas, the Middle East and Africa combined.
China’s recent “Golden Week” holiday brought 70 percent more Chinese visitors than last year, the tourism ministry said.


Zighy Stardust: A-list luxury living at Six Senses in Oman

A two bedroom villa at the Six Senses in Zighy Bay. (Supplied)
Updated 25 min 34 sec ago
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Zighy Stardust: A-list luxury living at Six Senses in Oman

  • The luxurious resort Six Senses Zighy Bay is located on a bay near a small village
  • The aesthetics of Six Senses are simple and practical

DUBAI: After a two-hour drive from Dubai, crossing the border at Dibba into Musandam, Oman, we found ourselves, alone, surrounded by mountainous rocks only made visible by the full moon. The headlights of the car showed a long stretch of endless rough road ahead to us, and no sign of the highly exclusive, luxury resort to which we were headed.

But this is just one of many ways to enter Six Senses Zighy Bay, the holiday resort that has hosted the likes of Bill Gates and Arab royals. You can make a James Bond-style entrance by speedboat from Dibba Marina or, if you’re feeling extra-adventurous, by paraglide tandem.

On our more prosaic road trip, we finally reached the resort, where we were welcomed by Six Senses’ friendly staff, and a 4x4, into which we climbed for the drive up the steep mountain to the resort.
Six Senses Zighy Bay is located on a bay near a small village, shielded by Al-Hajjar mountain range, giving it the privacy most VIPs look for. The story goes that, before the owners were able to build the resort, they had to strike a deal with the villagers, building them new homes and a school, and offering them employment at the resort.
The aesthetics of Six Senses are simple and practical, using stones, wood, and cool desert tones, blending into the natural surroundings. It has the feel of an authentic Omani village — fitted with modern-day luxuries. There are 82 spacious beach villas with their own private pools — fashioned to resemble stone huts — and high walls for privacy.

Inside the open-plan villas, there is a lounge area with glass doors that open out to the infinity pool area, complete with loungers and a majlis. In the bathroom there is a large stone bath and a shower (there’s also a shower outdoors).
For anyone caught-up in the hustle-and-bustle of city life, the first thing you notice is the deafening silence. The distant sound of waves crashing ashore and background birdsong only add to the peaceful tranquility.

The brand’s identity is based on a stripped-back, organic lifestyle in tune with nature and the outdoors. And the whole operation seems effortless. This, in fact, is far from the reality as the resort has a staff of just over 400 to keep things running smoothly.
When it comes to food, the resort is committed to the brand’s philosophy of making food “healthy by default.” They do this by growing as much of the produce as possible in their organic garden or sourcing from local farms.

During our stay we had a taste of their newly launched menus, created by celebrity chef James Knight-Pacheco, in the mountain-top restaurant, Sense on the Edge, which offers breathtaking views. The menu uses French and Japanese techniques with regional flavors for a fine-dining experience. The principle idea behind the menu stems from the concept of “land and sea.” It consists of five- and seven-course “journeys” of meats and poultry (a personal favorite), “voyages” of seafood, or “expeditions” for vegetarians. There’s also a fresh tapas menu at the Zighy Bar, the shining stars of which are their chorizo empanadas.

But the real feast is at the “Spiced Market” breakfast buffet: All types of seasonal fruits, a selection of cheeses, eggs cooked to your taste, or Middle Eastern favorites shakshouka and foul medames.
Aside from its traditionally themed luxury and the variety of food on offer, the real highlight of a stay at Six Senses is the range of activities available. After paragliding over the resort, we went scuba diving (spotting Nemo the clown fish three times). We didn’t have time for rock climbing, mountain biking, or — sadly — a treatment at the resort’s signature spa.

Overall a stay at Six Senses is bound to be unforgettable, with a laid-back luxury that makes it stand out from the high-end competition. Along with its dramatic mountain setting, calming sea views and accommodating staff, it makes for a perfect romantic getaway or an ideal holiday for a young family. But it doesn’t come cheap: Expect a bill to match the exclusive luxury.