Chinese Tourists Get VIP Welcome as Thai Visa Waiver Programme Begins

REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
A Chinese tourist is welcomed by Thai traditional puppets during a welcome ceremony of the first batch of Chinese tourists under a five-month visa-free entry scheme at Bangkok’s International Airport, Thailand, September 25, 2023.

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Chinese tourists landing in Bangkok got a VIP welcome on Monday, as Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin personally greeted the first batch of visitors to arrive in Thailand after it waived visas for Chinese nationals to boost the key tourism industry.

Dancers in traditional costumes and puppeteers put on performances for the bemused visitors, who came in on a flight from Shanghai. Many stopped to take selfies with Srettha.

Tourism is a crucial driver of Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy, known for its picturesque beaches and vibrant nightlife, and reviving an industry that was hard hit by the pandemic is one of the priorities of newly elected Srettha, who inherited an underperforming economy.

China’s own post-pandemic economic woes, however, have meant fewer tourists from what was once Thailand’s biggest market are flying in, a situation Srettha hopes the visa waiver can help fix.

“We are confident this policy will stimulate the economy,” the prime minister told reporters at Suvarnabhumi airport, adding that tourist safety will be prioritised.

The visa waiver programme runs from Sept. 25 until February next year. The government expects 2.88 million Chinese visitors during that 5-month period, slightly higher than the 2.34 million Chinese who have visited this year.

The visa waiver was helping draw in new visitors by making it simpler to enter, said tourist Gu Siyi, 25, who was travelling to Thailand for the first time with friends.

“More Chinese tourists come to Thailand for holiday, because it is indeed very convenient,” he said.

Before the pandemic, China was the largest source of tourists for Thailand, accounting for 11 million arrivals out of a record 39.9 million tourists in 2019, and spending 1.91 trillion baht ($53.11 billion).

Chinese tourists say they are drawn to Thailand for its beaches and food.

“The fruits here are great, especially the durian,” said Ye Weihe, 53, who said he also owns property in the tourist beach town of Pattaya.

So far this year, Thailand has welcomed 19 million visitors.

$1 = 35.9600 baht