BANGKOK: Chinese tourists landing in Bangkok got a VIP welcome on Monday, as Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin personally greeted the first batch of visitors to arrive in Thailand after it waived visas for Chinese nationals to boost the key tourism industry.
Dancers in traditional costume and puppeteers also put on performances for the bemused visitors, who came in on a flight from Shanghai. Many stopped to take selfies with Srettha.
Tourism is a crucial driver of Southeast Asia's second-largest economy, best known for its picturesque beaches and vibrant nightlife, and reviving the industry that was hard hit by the pandemic is one of the priorities of newly elected Srettha, who inherited an underperforming economy.
China's own post-pandemic economic woes, however, have meant that fewer tourists from what was once Thailand's biggest market are flying in, a situation Srettha hopes the visa waiver can help to fix.
"We are confident this policy will stimulate the economy," the prime minister told reporters at Suvarnabhumi airport, adding that tourist safety will be prioritised.
The visa waiver scheme runs from Sept. 25 until February next year. The government expects 2.88 million Chinese visitors during that 5-month period, slightly higher than the 2.34 million Chinese who visited so far this year.
Before the pandemic, China was the largest source of tourists, accounting for 11 million arrivals out of a record 39.9 million tourists in 2019, and spending 1.91 trillion baht ($53.11 billion)
So far this year, Thailand has welcomed a total of 19 million visitors. ($1 = 35.9600 baht) (Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat, Edited by Miral Fahmy) - Reuters