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“They [tour operators] still try to get tourists to buy stuff, but they are buying less. “The government thought only Chinese tour operators were benefiting from the zero-dollar tours, but actually it is Thai people who own the hotels and restaurants, so we are the ones who suffered.” Although there are now fewer Chinese visitors travelling to Thailand in groups, the number of FITs is more than making up for the loss, official statistics indicate.

Now, it is the Chinese who are buying property in the area.

Kevin Ding, a native of China’s Shanxi province, moved to Pattaya eight years ago to set up an online real estate agency targeting the Chinese market.

There are hundreds of hotels in Pattaya and neighbouring Jomtien, offering more than 100,000 rooms.

Some would have gone bankrupt long ago without the group tours from China.

In September 2016, Thai authorities impounded 2,150 tour buses belonging to three Thai companies that provided the buses free of charge to Chinese tourist agencies.

In return, the visitors were forced to spend at select shops.

The crackdown, initiated to stop the scamming of Chinese tourists that was harming Thailand’s reputation, led to a 30 per cent drop in the number of visitors from China in the last quarter of 2016.

The cheap tours and shopping scams quietly resumed in Thailand last year, however, after the crackdown lost steam.

“Now we get more Chinese FIT customers than tours.” That is good news for Tiffany’s bottom line.

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