Thailand has waived visa requirements for travelers from China for the next five months, as the country tries to revitalize its tourism industry, particularly in terms of the Chinese market, which has been slow to recover after the pandemic.
On Wednesday, Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin's new government announced the country will start a five-month visa waiver program for China and Kazakhstan from Sept 25 until Feb 29, 2024. The program aims to attract 30 percent more travelers and generate more revenue for the country.
The news has gone down well in China, with travel platforms inundated with searches and inquiries.
Searches for tour products on Trip.com Group's travel platform surged by 800 percent within 30 minutes of the news being announced. Qunar, another travel portal, said searches for flight tickets to Thailand increased by 70 percent compared with the same time last week, and searches for the country's hotels doubled.
"The program hit the spot, as the time period covers two major long holidays for Chinese people — the eight-day Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day holiday in early October, and the Spring Festival holiday in late January. The visa waiver program will strongly stimulate Chinese people to travel to Thailand in the next five months," said Xu Xiaolei, chief brand officer of CYTS Tours in Beijing.
He said a visa policy is usually the most effective and convenient tool to attract travelers and boost consumption. "Some countries and regions have been trapped in 'black swan' accidents in recent months and the coming visa waiver program will help restore Chinese travelers' confidence in Thailand's tourism."
According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the visa waiver program is estimated to add 700,000 new arrivals.
Statistics from TAT show that Thailand was visited by about 3 percent of all outbound tourists from the 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 Korean 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 ($13.2 billion). The target is less than half of the Chinese visits in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic. About 350,000 to 400,000 Chinese tourists have visited Thailand per month so far this year, 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.
"The visa-free scheme will definitely be a booster to tourism in Thailand and also the country's economy. But it still won't have maximum benefit if a negative perception about Thailand remains among Chinese," he said.
Thailand has become popular among Chinese travelers in the past decades, and was among the first countries that welcomed Chinese tour groups after China optimized its COVID-19 control measures around February.
Trip.com Group said the upcoming National Day holiday from Sept 29 to Oct 6 will see a peak in outbound tourism, and Thailand is among the top three choices for its users.
Fan Dongxiao, who is in charge of travel firm Tuniu's short-distance overseas trips, said more Chinese people from second or third-tier cities will choose to visit Thailand after the visa-free policy decision.
"We've already seen a jump in bookings for tour products for the coming Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day holidays, and the implementation of the visa waiver policy will further increase people's desire to visit Thailand," she said.
In another development, Georgia's Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili announced on Monday that the country by the Caucasus and the Black Sea has decided to introduce visa-free entry for Chinese citizens, and more details will be declared later.
"China is the second-largest economy in the world. One of our main interests is to strengthen trade and economic relations with China, to attract more investments from China, as well as to attract more tourists," Gharibashvili said at a governmental session in Tbilisi.
Chinese tourists are considered one of the most desirable tourists in the world, said the prime minister.
Xinhua contributed to this story.