Thailand's tourism industry has started looking up. With consumer spending at this year's traditional Loy Krathong Festival expected to hit an eight-year high, the country's tourism authority has announced that it aims to attract more than 8 million Chinese tourists next year.
At a news conference on Tuesday, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, or TAT, said it would continue to promote the country as one of the world's most popular travel destinations, and aims to attract more foreign tourists, especially from China.
TAT Governor Thapanee Kiatphaibool revealed that the authority is confident the total foreign arrivals this year will exceed its target of 25 million people.
Although the tourism authority had lowered its expectations of Chinese tourist arrivals from the previous 5 to 7 million to about 3.4 million this year, the authority estimated that Chinese arrivals next year will rise to more than 8 million due to an increase in the number of flights and better economic conditions.
"Thailand is well-known for its diversified tourism experiences and great services. And we will strengthen efforts to ensure the safety of tourists to further attract foreign visitors, especially from China," Thapanee said, adding that Chinese tourists may help to generate 452 billion baht ($13 billion) in tourist receipts next year.
For the past few days, people from all over Thailand have been taking part in the Loy Krathong Festival to celebrate the full moon. Residents and tourists gathered in the evening at lakes, rivers, canals, and beaches to pay their respects to the river goddess by floating krathongs — banana leaf "rafts" decorated with flowers, incense and candles.
The spending for this year's Loy Krathong Festival is estimated to increase by 3.3 percent from the previous year to 10 billion baht, according to a survey by the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce.
Although Thailand faces intense competition from other countries that have also offered visa exemptions to Chinese travelers, Thapanee said the country is still among the top destinations for tourists from the Chinese mainland.
China was Thailand's biggest source of international visitors before the COVID-19 pandemic, accounting for nearly 11 million arrivals in 2019, according to official statistics.
This year, however, Malaysians contributed the most to total foreign arrivals at 3.66 million people so far, followed by Chinese (3.03 million), South Koreans (1.43 million), Indians (1.4 million) and Russians (1.24 million).
In a bid to attract more visitors, the Thai government announced a temporary visa exemption for a 30-day stay for Chinese and Kazakh nationals. It started on Sept 25 and is scheduled to expire on Feb 29 next year.
Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, TAT's deputy governor for international marketing in Asia and South Pacific, said in a recent interview with Bangkok Post newspaper that the authority is planning a media trip to invite more than 100 Chinese key opinion leaders to explore new activities and destinations in Thailand, along with testing safety measures for tourists.