Thailand saw a record 38.27 million tourists in 2018, up 7.5% from 2017, the Tourism Ministry said yesterday (Jan 28).

The country’s December tourist arrivals were 3.85 million, the ministry said in a statement.

Chinese tourists are returning after a slowdown sparked by a tour boat tragedy that triggered concerns about safety standards. The number of Chinese holidaymakers rose 2.8% in December from a year earlier, to 838,634.

Chinese visitors are the top source of foreign receipts in an industry that makes up about a fifth of the economy. Foreign tourist receipts directly account for about 12% of Thailand’s gross domestic product.

Tourism is a key engine of growth, but managing the influx is a challenge amid pressure on the environment as well as clogged international airports.

Arrivals are projected to climb about 8% from last year’s 38.3 million, the Tourism Ministry said in a briefing today in Bangkok. To put that in perspective, the flood of arrivals exceeds the population of Canada.

For 2019, the ministry expects 41.1 million tourists to spend B2.21 trillion. The number of visitors from China is projected to rise 11% to 11.69 million, it said.

“The 41 million is a projection from the current trend,” Tourism Minister Weerasak Kowsurat said at the briefing. “If we actually really reach that level, I’ll have a headache.”