BANGKOK: After a three-year lull, Thailand is welcoming back Chinese tourists to its golden beaches, striking temples and fancy shopping centres, expecting an influx of Chinese tourists to help restore its pandemic-battered tourism sector.
“This is our first trip abroad since the outbreak of the pandemic. We are so excited and happy. We can feel we’re so welcomed in Thailand,” said Liu Lingling, who came from the city of Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province and planned to spend the Chinese New Year holiday in Thailand.
Liu, whose family would head south to a seaside resort after a few days in Bangkok, was among the legions of Chinese tourists who chose Thailand as the destination for their first outbound travel since China’s optimised Covid-19 strategy took effect on Jan 8.
On Jan 9, the second day after the optimisation, Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul and other senior officials welcomed the first group of Chinese tourists at the Suvarnabhumi Airport with flowers and gifts.
The high-profile event reflected the importance Thailand placed on wooing back Chinese tourists to help boost the tourism industry and economic recovery, analysts said.
In downtown Bangkok, the atmosphere of the Chinese Lunar New Year overspreads, with shopping malls decorated with Chinese New Year elements in an effort to cash in on an influx of Chinese tourists during the first “Golden Week” holiday after China optimised its Covid-19 strategy.
At Chinatown in Bangkok’s Yaowarat Road, 200 metres of the road are decorated with lights and lanterns of various styles to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year that fell on Jan 22 this year, the start of the Year of the Rabbit, which Nutthaporn believed would be a year of vitality and prosperity.
“We have stockpiled food supplies for the Chinese New Year travel rush,” which always attracts a lot of foreign customers, said Nutthaporn, a chef at a restaurant on Yaowarat Road.
“Chinese tourists are our main driver of the economy. They are back this year, and I think our business will run as good as before the pandemic,” he said.
Nutthaporn is not alone in his optimism. Airlines, hotels, restaurants and other tourism operators are looking forward to seeing more Chinese tourists this year.
“The return of Chinese tourists has raised hope for the recovery of the tourism industry in Thailand and other countries around the world,” said Wichai Kinchong Choi, senior vice-president of Kasikornbank.
Thailand’s tourism sector will exhibit a faster recovery following the return of Chinese tourists, said Piti Disyatat, secretary of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of Thailand, the country’s central bank.
The Thai economy will continue to gain traction with continued recovery in tourism and private consumption thanks to the return of Chinese tourists, Piti said.
The Thai government is expecting seven to 10 million Chinese tourist arrivals this year, with 300,000 coming in the first quarter.
The South-East Asian country welcomed more than 2.24 million international travellers in December alone, compared with only 428,000 for the full year of 2021. — Xinhua