Vowing to revive the country’s economy, newly appointed Prime Minister Shretha Thavisin announced a visa-free policy for Chinese and Kazakh tourists to run from September 25 to February 29 next year, signaling that Thailand’s tourism Recovery of the industry is the top priority.
The policy came just in time for China’s “Golden Week” holiday period, which is centered around National Day on October 1.
This year’s Golden Week coincides with the Mid-Autumn Festival, marking a 10-day travel rush that runs from September 29 to October 8. This is one of the first holiday periods after the COVID-19 pandemic during which people in China can travel without restrictions.
Chinese visitors arriving from Shanghai were welcomed with gifts by Ceretta and tourism ministers at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport on Monday as the visa-free policy took effect.
“We are confident that this scheme will give a huge boost to the economy,” Shreta told reporters.
“We would like to encourage more visits by Chinese tourists not only to major cities such as Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket.”
He said the Thai government hopes travelers will visit smaller cities, prolonging their stays and increasing spending.
Beijing appreciated this week’s warm welcome, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Wenbin said at a news conference on Tuesday.
China was once Thailand’s largest source of tourists, with nearly 11 million tourists visiting the Southeast Asian country in 2019, accounting for more than a quarter of international arrivals before the COVID-19 pandemic plunged the global tourism market. Was.
These numbers are in stark contrast to 2023. According to figures from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, only 2.2 million Chinese tourists arrived between January and September 10 this year.
Southeast Asian countries had high hopes for a rebound in international travel to boost their tourism sectors after the pandemic shutdown, with their positive forecasts boosted by China’s easing of travel restrictions as early as 2023. found.
But with a sluggish Chinese economy, a weak yuan and grim unemployment figures, regional travel hubs have had to lower their expectations and face a longer road to recovery.
Gary Bowerman, founder of Check-in Asia, a tourism-focused research and marketing company, said the new visa-waiver strategy sets the tone not only for the Golden Week peak season but also for the upcoming Christmas and Lunar New Year holiday period. Is.
“The competition to attract Chinese tourists is really intensifying among all the countries in the region, and you have to make it as easy as possible to do that,” Bowerman said.
He said the Chinese outbound travel industry is going through a “transient period” as travel trends and sentiments have changed since the pandemic, while more Chinese consumers are also looking for different experiences – often on smaller budgets.
travel by millions
Last year, China was not allowing citizens to travel outside the country for leisure due to its COVID restrictions. This led to a boom in domestic tourism.
Now, although the economy is struggling, those who are able to travel are taking the opportunity to go abroad for a short period of time.
These also include a technical employee named Huang. On Xiahongshu, China’s equivalent of Instagram, she told CNN that she spent last year’s October long holidays on a road trip to the western part of Sichuan province, but this time she’s headed to Thailand to go on a surfing adventure.
She said, “I have been there before. What I want to see and experience most is surfing. I still don’t know what the waves are like in Thailand and I will explore some new destinations this time. “
Outbound international travel bookings are up nearly 20 times from the same holiday period last year, according to Trip.com, which also operates Ctrip, China’s largest travel booking platform.
For example, in September 2022, more than 70 major Chinese cities were under coronavirus lockdown, affecting approximately 300 million people.
Trip.com said that after the visa-free scheme was revealed on September 13, hotel bookings in Thailand increased by 6220 percent compared with the same period last year. Thailand is projected to be the top tourist destination for outbound Chinese travelers, followed by South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and the United Kingdom.
More than 21 million passengers will travel by air in China during the Golden Week period, with an average of 17,000 daily outbound international flights and another 14,000 domestic flights per day, said Jin Junhao, deputy director of the Civil Aviation Administration of China. A press conference.
Trains are also busier than ever, carrying domestic people to many far-flung destinations in China.
According to rail booking platform 12306, China Railways estimates that about 190 million railway trips will be made during the 12-day travel rush from September 27 to October 8.
That’s more than double the 72 million trips made during the same holiday last year and the 138 million trips made in 2019, before the pandemic.
Despite the increase in numbers, China’s outbound international flight capacity is still down about 50 percent, much lower than other countries, and international flight fares are still much higher than in 2019 due to limited capacity available, the consultancy said. said Joanna Lu, head of. To Asia on Ascend by Cerium.
Meanwhile, traveler habits have changed since the pandemic. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt, CEO of China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI), said Chinese travelers who are heading out of the country these days want new experiences at reasonable prices.
“There has been a change in that people are looking for value for money,” he said.
He further said that those who have the ability to spend will continue to travel not only for leisure, but they also want to integrate business, health, education and spending time with family in those trips.
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Rumors, films complicate efforts to lure tourists back
Before the visa-free policy was announced this month, Chinese tourists were slow to return to Thailand.
Through the first seven months of 2023, China was absent from the list of Thailand’s top source markets for tourists for the first time in a decade, according to Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports data released in August.
Complicating efforts to win back this lucrative market, social media users in China reportedly expressed apprehension about visiting Thailand due to rumors claiming that travelers could be kidnapped and tortured. May be sent across the border to work in scam centers in Myanmar or Cambodia.
These allegations became more intense with the release of the film. no more betsA thriller based in an unnamed Southeast Asian country where people are lured to work in scam factories.
Meanwhile, a hashtag that translates to “Why are people unwilling to travel to Thailand” earned 420 million views on Weibo and was a top discussion topic on the social media site last month, with some users saying they There was a fear of being lured into scam factories. , while others cited that the visa process took too long at the time.
This prompted the government to try to rebuild Chinese consumers’ confidence, said Sisdivacher Cheewarattanaporn, president of the Thai Travel Agents Association.
He said the rumors were false and that these illegal operations were not taking place in Thailand but in neighboring countries such as Myanmar and Cambodia.
Whatever the reason for the low arrival numbers earlier this year, Thailand’s tourism industry is still betting on a boom as Chinese travelers hit the road for the upcoming holiday period.
“It may not be 100 percent yet but it is getting better. Tour companies have prepared themselves,” Sisdivacher said.