Thailand’s Prime Minister, Srettha Thavisin, declared a landmark development in tourism collaboration by announcing the permanent elimination of visa requirements for citizens of Thailand and China, effective March. This strategic decision follows Thailand’s earlier move in September to waive visas for Chinese nationals, a measure designed to invigorate the tourism sector.
The initial visa waiver garnered an enthusiastic response, with over 22,000 Chinese visitors entering Thailand within the first 48 hours of its implementation. Prime Minister Srettha, addressing a press conference, conveyed the nation’s preparedness to extend a warm welcome to tourists from both countries. He underscored the significance of this decision, emphasising its role in strengthening relations between Thailand and China while elevating the status of Thai passports.
Chinese tourists currently represent the second-largest cohort of foreign visitors to Thailand, trailing only Malaysians. The Tourism Authority of Thailand, although expecting up to 3.5 million Chinese visitors in 2023, fell short of its initial target of 4 million. Nevertheless, this projection marks a substantial improvement from the meagre 270,000 Chinese tourists received in 2022.
Several factors contributed to the decline in Chinese tourist arrivals, including post-COVID flight shortages, a decelerating Chinese economy, and safety concerns. Rumours of tourists being kidnapped and sent to work in scam centres in neighbouring countries, coupled with a tragic shooting incident in a Bangkok shopping mall in October 2022, further dampened tourist confidence.
Looking ahead, the Tourism Authority has set an ambitious goal of attracting 8.2 million Chinese tourists by 2024. In a reciprocal gesture, China has initiated a visa-free trial for visitors from select countries, including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia, lasting until the end of November this year. These collaborative efforts aim to not only revitalise tourism but also foster stronger ties between Thailand and China, positioning them as key partners in the global tourism landscape.