Chinese tourists get VIP welcome in Thailand as visa-free travel begins

Published : 25 Sep 2023 09:19 PM

Chinese tourists received a personal welcome from the Thai prime minister Monday as they arrived in Bangkok under a new visa-free scheme the government hopes will give the kingdom's vital tourism sector a boost.

Traditional dancers accompanied a smiling PM Srettha Thavisin as he greeted visitors arriving from Shanghai at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport, handing out welcome gifts.

"I was shocked by the welcoming ceremony, and I'm very happy. It's a great start of my trip," visitor Zhuang Pan, 31, told AFP.

Jin Li, arriving for her honeymoon, told AFP the scheme was great, before she and her new husband grabbed a photograph with Srettha.

"I don't need to worry, can go on a trip at any time, just need to book a ticket," she said.

Visitors from China accounted for the largest percentage of Thailand's tourists pre-pandemic, with tourism overall making up around 20 percent of the kingdom's GDP.

Covid-19 travel restrictions hammered the sector and recovery has been slow, stymied by a struggling global economy -- and safety fears stoked by a Chinese blockbuster thriller about a man being kidnapped and forced to work in a Southeast Asian online scam centre.

Zheng Zhengzhou, 36, said he was aware of the dangers of visiting Thailand, referencing "No More Bets" -- the film that has spooked many tourists.

"So it would be a lie to say I don't have any concerns (on safety issues)," he said.

Srettha has sought to reassure visitors about their safety before, emphasising that visitor security in the kingdom is a priority.

"The safety of tourists from their first step in Thailand to their departure when they leave must be safe and spectacular from all sides," he said.

Chinese visitors were greeted by tourism police officers and informed of the details of a 24-hour police hotline.

The visa-free scheme was launched in time for China's "Golden Week" holiday period in October, and runs until February 29.

Srettha said that under the scheme bookings had already increased "tenfold", and that he was confident it would "significantly stimulate the economy". "Today marks a good day for Thailand and we hope our other policies will continue to stimulate the economy," he added.