Top Thai officials welcomed hundreds of Chinese tourists to Bangkok’s international airport on Monday, the first day of a new visa-free entry program that officials say will boost the country’s tourism industry, which has been badly damaged by the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin handed out gifts and posed for photos as his tourism minister and other VIPs greeted around 300 travelers from Shanghai. Surprised tourists were entertained by Thai traditional dancers and drummers inside the arrivals area at Suvarnabhumi Airport.
“We are confident that this policy will significantly boost the economy,” Sretha told reporters. He said the government plans to promote Thailand’s smaller cities as destinations for Chinese tourists to encourage them to stay longer and spend more.
US TEACHER OF TIKTOK FAME ARRESTED IN THAILAND FOR ALLEGED SEX WITH TEENAGE FAN
Addressing security concerns among tourists, Srettha said it was the authorities’ top priority. There have been reports and rumors circulating widely on Chinese social media about fraud and kidnapping in Thailand.
A tourist from Shanghai, who identified himself only as Dai, said he was impressed with the “very lively” welcome ceremony at the airport, although he noted that the immigration officer who checked his passport was not immediately aware of the temporary visa waiver policy . He said he plans to stay for two weeks and visit cities other than Bangkok, such as Chiang Mai and Phuket.
Peng Chunyu and Wan Yi, who arrived on the same flight, said it was excellent policy for Thailand to allow visa-free entry for the Chinese. The process was “very smooth,” Peng said. The two will stay for nine days and said they are looking forward to seeing Bangkok’s Grand Palace, Wat Arun and Chinatown.
The visa waiver, which also applies to visitors from the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, will be in place until February 29. Tourism Minister Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol said there has been about a 30% increase in accommodation and flight bookings since the policy was announced.
China more than a decade ago became a major source of tourists to Thailand, with nearly 11 million visitors in 2019, accounting for 27.6 percent of all arrivals that year before the pandemic devastated the tourism market.
MONKEYS AS WILD ANIMALS TARGET SUPERMARKET ATTACK: VIDEO
The government proposed the visa-free measure amid concerns that the number of Chinese tourists may be lower than expected this year due to strict visa requirements. The target number of Chinese arrivals had been revised from 5 million to 3 million after the state Tourism Authority of Thailand reported that about 1.4 million Chinese tourists came in the first six months.
Tourism Authority director Thapanee Kiatphaibool said on Monday that authorities are confident the number of Chinese arrivals could reach 4 million to 5 million after the visa-free program is introduced.
CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP
Thailand’s economy tanked during the pandemic as its massive tourism industry virtually collapsed. The country received about 40 million visitors in 2019, and the government estimated they spent $53.2 billion — a figure that will drop by more than 99% by 2021, according to figures from the Ministry of Tourism and Sports.
Chai Wacharonke, the prime minister’s spokesman, said earlier that Thailand received 15 million international visitors in the first seven months. He said the government aims to attract 28 million tourists and generate $39.2 billion in revenue by 2023.