BANGKOK — Starting next week, Chinese nationals will be able to visit Thailand without a visa, as part of new Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s strategy to boost the country’s economy.
Beginning September 25, nationals from China and Kazakhstan can enter the kingdom under a temporary visa exemption scheme for 30 days. The waiver is due to expire at the end of February.
The prospect of more tourism has excited hotel groups and professionals, who hope Thailand will welcome more visitors from China.
“China pre-pandemic used to be one of our top countries that would come into our hotel,” said Ranjeet Viswanathan, director of sales & marketing at the Hyatt Regency Phuket Resort. “Before, I think almost 18 to 20% of our business was coming from China, [we were] heavily dependent especially with the tour groups. Bookings right now, China makes up for about 5% of my business.”
China was the driver of Thailand’s tourism industry prior to the pandemic. In 2019, 11 million Chinese visitors alone contributed to a record 39 million arrivals in Thailand.
But with the pandemic restricting Chinese nationals from traveling without visas or quarantine for nearly three years, tourist visits have nosedived.
In 2022, only 273,567 arrivals entered from mainland China, according to Thai government figures.
This year, over 1 million Chinese have since arrived in Thailand up until mid-May, with the government expecting that figure to rise to 5 million by the end of the calendar year.
Gary Bowerman, a tourism analyst based in Kuala Lumpur, said the decision to waive visas for Chinese tourists will boost numbers, but the move is “long overdue.”
“The decision to issue a temporary visa waiver for Chinese tourists for the upcoming travel season shows how political decision-making, or otherwise, impacts tourism in the region,” he said. “The visa waiver is especially important for Chinese group travel, for which competition is now intensifying across Asia Pacific. The government is now introducing a measure that is long overdue if it wants to attract more Chinese visitors.”
“Starting with Chinese Golden Week in October and extending through, Christmas/New Year to Chinese New Year, we will see a mad scramble across the region to attract travelers from China. Tourism in the region is about to get intensely competitive,” Bowerman added.
Golden Week is one of China’s two longest national holidays and runs this year from October 1-7. Thai businesses hope the week-long holiday will be the spark that attracts more Chinese visitors to enter the kingdom.
Last year, Thai officials optimistically predicted the number of arrivals would reach 12 million. But that projection was quickly dismissed by independent tourism experts because of China’s slowing economy and fewer direct flights between the two countries since the pandemic.
Source : VOA News