BANGKOK, Sept 25 (Reuters) – Chinese tourists arriving in Bangkok received a VIP reception on Monday, with Prime Minister Sritha Thavisin personally receiving the first batch of visitors arriving in Thailand after Thailand canceled entry visas for Chinese citizens to boost its key tourism industry.
Dancers in traditional costumes and puppeteers performed for the astonished visitors, who arrived on a flight from Shanghai. Many stopped to take selfies with Sreetha.
Tourism is a crucial driver of Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy, known for its stunning beaches and vibrant nightlife, and reviving an industry hard-hit by the pandemic is one of the priorities of the newly elected Sritha, who inherited an underperforming economy.
However, China’s post-pandemic economic problems have led to a decline in the number of tourists coming from Thailand’s largest market, a situation Sretha hopes the visa waiver will help fix.
“We are confident that this policy will stimulate the economy,” the Prime Minister told reporters at Suvarnabhumi Airport, adding that the safety of tourists would be a priority.
The visa exemption program runs from September 25 until February next year. The government expects 2.88 million Chinese visitors during that five-month period, slightly higher than the 2.34 million Chinese who visited this year.
Tourist Go Si (25 years old), who was traveling to Thailand for the first time with his friends, said that the visa exemption helped attract new visitors by facilitating entry.
“More Chinese tourists are coming to Thailand for vacation, because it is already very convenient,” he said.
Before the pandemic, China was Thailand’s largest source of tourists, receiving 11 million arrivals out of a total of 39.9 million tourists in 2019, and spending 1.91 trillion baht ($53.11 billion).
Chinese tourists say they are attracted to Thailand because of its beaches and food.
“The fruit here is amazing, especially durian,” said Yi Weihe, 53, who said he also owns property in the tourist beach city of Pattaya.
So far this year, Thailand has received 19 million visitors.
($1 = 35.9600 baht)
Additional reporting from Panarat Thepjumbanat. Edited by Miral Fahmy and Gerry Doyle
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