Political unrest kept tourists away from Thailand for much of this year, but a surge in Chinese tourists over the past two months may signal a recovery next year, analysts say.
"Thailand's tourism sector, which was a key growth driver before the most recent political crisis, finally looks to be on the mend, and should add much-needed support to the economy going into 2015," Capital Economics said in a note last week.
Political unrest this year, triggered by a parliamentary bill in November 2013 that could have allowed the return of an ousted leader, saw the removal of the incumbent prime minister and ended with a coup d'état in May 2014, dented Thailand's tourism sector, which accounts for around 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
Visitor arrivals were down 12 percent on year from January through September, data from Thailand's Department of Tourism show, weighed by protests and outbreaks of violence in the first half of the year and caution among travelers thereafter.
Nearly a year ago, the government had forecast 2014 GDP growth of 4.0-5.0 percent, but the impact of the political crisis and weak imports saw government officials cut their forecasts. In December, Finance Minister Sommai Phasee said the economy may expand less than 1 percent this year.
China to the rescue
But Thailand's tourism sector appears to be turning a corner. Visitor arrivals increased 4.2 percent on year over the October-November period, led by a surge in Chinese tourists.
"The rebound in Chinese tourists is significant as they have become increasingly important to Thailand's tourism performance in recent years, Capital Economics said. Chinese tourists accounted for 17 percent of foreign visitors in 2013.