Empty tourist boats at the Floating Market in Pattaya. AFP
Southeast Asia is facing billions of dollars in losses from a collapse in Chinese tourism since the outbreak of a deadly new coronavirus.
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From Thailand to Hoi An in Vietnam and the Cambodian casino town of Sihanoukville, takings have plummeted as Chinese travellers find themselves subject to a host of restrictions at home and abroad.
"We haven't had any Chinese for 10 days because they closed the road from Yunnan," says Ong Tau, 47, from behind her stall of fruit shakes in the temple-studded Laotian colonial town of Luang Prabang.
"Business is down 20-30 percent... it will get worse."
Tour guides, mall workers and restaurant staff are all feeling the burn as Chinese travellers stay at home in the middle of a global health crisis.
Loans and job losses
The slump is being felt sharply in Thailand, where tourism authorities say arrivals from China — usually close to one million a month — have plunged by 90 percent so far this February.
At the Chang Siam Elephant Park in Pattaya, owner Nantakorn Phatnamrob fears he will soon be pressed into debt to float a business which has lost nearly $65,000 since the outbreak.
Crocodile farms and tiger sanctuaries — controversial tourist beacons where visitors can pet the animals — are also deserted, leaving owners to feed expensive star attractions.
The outbreak has also spooked western tourists at the height of peak season in what has already been a tough period for Thai tourism thanks to a strong baht.
That will spell bad news for the untold number of Thais working in the tourism sector.
Ma Mya, 22, who sells trinkets in Pattaya, says she may soon have to return to her home in northern Thailand.
"There's no more profit — everything has gone bad."
Things can only get better
With so much riding on the seasonal influx, some Mekong countries are desperate not to deter those Chinese still travelling.
Thailand offers visa on arrival for Chinese tourists despite having one of the highest numbers of confirmed infections outside of the mainland.
For staunch Beijing ally Cambodia, where only one case of the virus has been confirmed so far despite a large Chinese presence, strongman leader Hun Sen has repeatedly played down the risk to his country.
Still, Cambodian tourism is taking a hammering.
"I used to make $100 a day," said Chantha Reak, a ride-hailing driver. "Now it's $10."
Businesses are praying for a bounce back if and when the virus is controlled.
With 10 million Chinese visitors each year, Thailand hopes the pain will ease in a few months.
Regular visitor Yen Ran, 25, from Chengdu, came to Pattaya despite the health warnings.
"I am a little concerned how other countries perceive us," she said. "But when there's a cure, things will get better."
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