Thailand welcomes first tour groups from China since easing of Covid-19 travel curbs

Thailand welcomed the first tour groups from China after the pandemic, betting the return of tourists following Beijing’s abrupt reopening will turbocharge 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 on Monday 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 travelers are among the first to leave China in groups after it included Thailand among 20 destinations for such outbound tours from Monday. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha 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 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 insurance mandate imposed by the country for visitors 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, accounting for about 28% of the record 40 million foreign arrivals in 2019.

Thailand, Southeast 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.

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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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