Returning with much fanfare

Embracing diversity: A Chinese tourist in a traditional Thai costume posing for a photo at Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) in Bangkok. — AP

THE nation welcomed the first tour groups from China after the pandemic, hoping that the return of tourists following Beijing’s abrupt reopening will turbo-charge the recovery of the South-East Asian country’s vital tourism sector.

Senior Thai government officials and Chinese diplomats lined up at a Bangkok airport yesterday morning to receive the first two groups of about 20 tourists each from Guangzhou.

The visitors have a six-day itinerary that will span Bangkok and beyond and take them to popular tourist destinations from temples to beaches.

The travellers were among the first to leave China in groups after it included Thailand among 20 destinations for such outbound tours from yesterday.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has ordered Thai government agencies to roll out attractive tour packages and marketing deals to draw at least five million visitors Chinese visitors this year, according to government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri.

“We are extremely pleased to receive these first groups and we look forward to many more to come,” said Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Thailand has welcomed nearly 100,000 Chinese tourists this year through Feb 2, according to the state tourism agency.

That comes despite a Covid-19 insurance mandate imposed by the country for visitors coming from China and India, which require negative RT-PCR test results on return.

Chinese were the largest group of visitors to Thailand before the pandemic.

They accounted for about 28% of the record 40 million foreign arrivals in 2019.

Thailand, South-East Asia’s second-largest economy, expects foreign tourist arrivals to more than double this year from 11.2 million last year.

Tourism is a key growth driver and accounts for 12% of the country’s economy.

Thailand has said it expected the rise in the number of Chinese tourists to be gradual due to limited flight availability and lower post-pandemic capacity of tourism operators.

Flights from China to Thailand are expected to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2024. — Bloomberg

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