Thai officials welcomed hundreds of Chinese tourists on Monday (25/9), the first day of a new five-month visa-free scheme in effect in hopes the initiative will help boost the country’s tourism industry which has been badly damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prime Minister (PM) Srettha Thavisin and other officials joined a welcoming event at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport for around 300 travelers arriving from Shanghai. He handed out gifts and took photos with the surprised and happy tourists.
“We believe this policy will give a big boost to the economy,” Srettha told reporters after welcoming the tourists.
He added that his government plans to promote Thailand’s small towns as destinations for Chinese tourists to encourage them to stay longer and spend more.
Srettha said the top priority for authorities is ensuring that tourists in Thailand are safe “from their first steps until they return home.” There are rumors circulating on Chinese social media about the risk of fraud and kidnapping in Thailand.
Traffic jams in Bangkok’s Chinatown area, one of the tourist destinations amid Thailand’s efforts to attract Chinese tourists after China lifted travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bangkok, Thailand, January 6 2023. (Photo: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)
A tourist from Shanghai, who gave his name as Dai, said he was impressed by the welcoming ceremony at the airport, although he noted that the immigration officer who checked his passport did not immediately know about the visa exemption scheme for Chinese travelers. Dai plans to stay in Bangkok for two weeks and will visit other major cities, including Chiang Mai and Phuket.
Peng Chunyu and Wan Yi, who arrived on the same plane, said it was a very good policy.
The visa exemption will also apply to visitors from Kazakhstan and will be valid until February 29.
China was more than a decade ago the main source of tourists for Thailand, with nearly 11 million travelers in 2019, accounting for 27.6 percent of all visitors that year before the COVID-19 pandemic devastated the tourist market.
The government proposed the policy because it is concerned the number of Chinese tourists this year may be lower than expected due to strict visa regulations. The target number of arrivals was revised from 5 million to 3 million based on an initial report from the Tourism Authority of Thailand that about 1.4 million Chinese tourists came in the first six months of this year. (uh/lt)