Chinese tourists take photos at one of Bangkok's most famous Buddhist temples, Wat Arun, which is locally known as Wat Chaeng, in June this year. (PHOTO BY YANG WANLI/chinadaily.com.cn)
Chinese travelers who want to visit Thailand will no longer need to get a visa in the next five months staring from Sept 28, Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin announced on Wednesday.
The visa-free policy for Chinese visitors, which will be implemented until the end of February, aims to boost Thailand's tourism sector and the country's economy.
The "visa-free" policy will not only cover Chinese tourists but also travelers from Kazakhstan.
Sudawan Wang Suphakit Koson, Thai Minister of Tourism and Sports, said the policy is expected to boost a growth of inbound tourists by 30 percent.
She also called for a public focus on the economic benefits for the country and revealed that the ministry will keep monitoring the data for an evaluation of the policy.
The free visa policy to visitors from China is estimated to add 700,000 arrivals during the high season, according to Tourism Authority of Thalland (TAT).
Statistics from TAT shows that Thailand was visited by about 3 percent of all outbound tourists from Chinese mainland, representing the largest share among foreign destinations.
In the first quarter of this year, Chinese travelers were in the top five groups of foreign arrivals, along with Malaysian, Russian, South Korea and Indian visitors.
The Thai government expects the number of Chinese visitors to meet the target of 5 million this year, with spending of 446 billion baht ($13.18 billion).
Although the targeted amount is even less than a half of the Chinese visits in 2019, the record so far is beyond the satisfaction. About 350,000 to 400,000 Chinese tourists visited Thailand per month, with the tally by August reaching 2.1 million, according to the Thai Ministry of Tourism and Sports.
One of the major factors that stopped Chinese tourists from traveling to Thailand is safety concerns, said Varut Kanchanapattana, board member and honorary treasurer of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA).
"The visa-free scheme will definitely be a booster to tourism in Thailand and also the country's economy. But it is still not yet playing a maximum benefit if a negative perception about Thailand remains among Chinese," he said.
In a past few months, news reports on human trafficking and Telecom fraud in Thailand's neighboring countries have hit headlines on almost all domestic news portals in China.
In addition, some violence and crimes involving foreigners, together with top-grossing Chinese movies using scammer networks in Southeast Asia as their background, made the people worry more about the safety of traveling in the region.
Surawat Akaraworamat, vice-president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, said Srettha should consider making an official visit to China to strengthen friendly economic ties and investment partnerships, taking this opportunity to convince the Chinese government about Thailand's safety.
The Royal Thai Police have been cracking down on scammer networks over the past few months. He emphasized the importance of communication with the general public. "If those efforts are not be known among travelers, that will do little to help attract more tourists," he said.
"There are multiple reasons for the less-than-expected situation. If you look at the issue in a larger picture, you will find that the whole world is in slow recovery, not only within the Southeast Asia," said Gary Bowerman, director of the travel intelligence and strategy consultancy Check-in Asia.
He said it still will take more time for people to get everything back normal after the long-lasting influences from COVID-19 pandemic. The airlines, travel agencies and other tourism service providers that were impacted badly over the past years need more time to recover.
Still, Bowerman suggested tourism sectors in Thai to strengthen their competitiveness as China's domestic travel services have kept improving in a dramatic speed over recent years, with all the aspects from the airlines to hotel services now advanced.
"However, we stay positive to the fourth quarter and next year since Thailand enjoys geographic as well as cultural advantages to the Chinese market. It might be difficult to make a specific anticipation. Still, the new visa policy will be a booster," he added.