Thailand’s new government has taken a significant step towards revitalizing its tourism industry by approving a measure that grants temporary visa-free entry to Chinese tourists. This move underscores the country’s commitment to prioritizing the recovery of its tourism sector, a vital component of its economy.
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin announced that this visa exemption, which will also extend to visitors from Kazakhstan, will be in effect from September 25th until February 29th of the following year. He emphasized that thorough consultations with relevant authorities have been conducted to ensure they are adequately prepared to handle the expected influx of travelers.
Thai Minister of Tourism and Sports, Sudawan Wang Suphakit Koson, expressed optimism about the policy’s impact, expecting a substantial 30 percent growth in inbound tourist numbers. She also stressed the importance of recognizing the economic benefits of this initiative and confirmed that the ministry will closely monitor data to evaluate its effectiveness.
According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), the visa-free policy for Chinese visitors is projected to result in approximately 700,000 additional arrivals during the high season.
China has been a significant source of tourists for Thailand for over a decade, with nearly 11 million visitors in 2019, accounting for 27.6% of all arrivals the year before the pandemic severely impacted global tourism.
The decision to implement this measure stems from concerns that the number of Chinese tourists this year might fall short of the initial target of 5 million due to strict visa requirements. In the first half of the year, only about 1.4 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand.
The Thai government is hopeful that the visa exemption will help them reach their goal of welcoming 5 million Chinese visitors this year, resulting in an estimated spending of 446 billion baht ($13.18 billion).
Thailand’s economy suffered a significant blow during the pandemic as its tourism industry virtually collapsed. In 2019, the country received approximately 40 million international visitors, generating an estimated 1.9 trillion baht ($53.2 billion) in revenue. However, this revenue plummeted by more than 99% by 2021, according to data from the Ministry of Tourism and Sports.
Chai Wacharonke, a spokesperson for the Office of the Prime Minister, revealed that Thailand received 15 million international visitors in the first seven months of the current year. The government aims to attract 28 million international visitors and generate 1.4 trillion baht ($39.2 billion) in tourism revenue in 2023. Chai hailed the visa exemption scheme as a crucial tool for reigniting the tourism industry, noting that it is “the only economic machine remaining that can be driven with hope to generate new income quickly for Thailand.”
Safety concerns have been one of the major factors deterring Chinese tourists from traveling to Thailand. Reports of human trafficking and telecom fraud in neighboring countries, along with incidents of violence and crimes involving foreigners, have raised worries about the region’s safety.
Gary Bowerman, director of the travel intelligence and strategy consultancy Check-in Asia, pointed out that the slow global recovery, not just in Southeast Asia, has played a significant role in the lower-than-expected tourism numbers. He emphasized that it will take time for the world to return to normalcy after the prolonged impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, airlines, travel agencies, and other tourism service providers that suffered during the pandemic require more time for recovery.
Nonetheless, Bowerman remains positive about the future, especially in the fourth quarter and the coming year. He highlighted Thailand’s geographic and cultural advantages in attracting the Chinese market and sees the new visa policy as a promising booster.
In addition to the visa exemption, the Cabinet has approved other measures to address economic challenges, including a reduction in electricity fees and diesel prices, as well as a three-year debt relief program for farmers, aimed at alleviating the higher cost of living and other economic woes.