A Thai official gives garlands to Chinese tourists as they arrive on Monday in Bangkok, Thailand. (SAKCHAI LALIT / AP)
As Thailand welcomed the first group of Chinese tourists on Monday after updating its arrival policy over the weekend, local authorities fully opened their arms to inbound travelers by removing the requirement of vaccination before entry.
"Visitors who are not vaccinated at all will also be granted entry without restriction. Showing proof of vaccination would be cumbersome and inconvenient, so our decision is that it is unnecessary," Anutin Charnvirakul, deputy prime minister and minister of public health said.
Thailand is also offering visitors a longer period of stay. Effective through March 31, the period of stay is extended from 30 days to 45 for tourists from countries and regions that qualify for visa exemption, and to 30 days instead of 15 for those eligible for a visa on arrival.
The announcement was made after a welcoming ceremony on Monday for the first group of Chinese tourists to arrive at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport since Thailand updated its travel policy.
China optimized its own travel protocol for inbound arrivals on Sunday.
Xiamen Airlines flight MF833, carrying 269 Chinese tourists, landed in the Thai capital after flying from East China's Fujian province.
A large group of greeters led by Anutin, Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob and Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn welcomed the tourists after their arrival.
Officials presented the tourists with orchid garlands, souvenirs and tourism information leaflets in Chinese. They also held up a banner that read: "Chinese and Thais come from the same family. Amazing Thailand will always warmly welcome Chinese people."
"That was a big surprise to us. Thailand's people are very amicable," said Ma Xixiao, a traveler from Beijing. "It's exciting that we can come back to Thailand, as we last paid a visit to the country in 2016."
Her trip with family members will cover Bangkok and the coastal city of Pattaya.
"Many of my friends love Thailand very much, and they envy me for the quick decision that made the trip possible," she said.
According to statistics from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Chinese travelers accounted for one-fourth of the total international inbound tourists to Thailand before the COVID-19 pandemic. There were more than 11 million Chinese visitors in 2019 alone, generating over 500 billion baht ($14.95 billion) in tourism revenue.
The number dropped sharply in 2020 and 2021. Last year saw the number of inbound Chinese travelers surge to nearly 290,000.
Following China's optimization of its COVID control policy, the Tourism Authority of Thailand estimated that the number of international inbound tourists this year is likely to reach 25 million.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand believes that starting on Monday, about 300,000 Chinese tourists will arrive in the first quarter — 60,000 in January, 90,000 in February and 150,000 in March. A total of 5 million Chinese tourists are expected to visit Thailand in 2023.
Tanes Petsuwan, the tourism authority's deputy governor for international marketing for Asia and the South Pacific, said he was very glad to see an increase in the number of Chinese visiting Thailand. "Most Thai people are very happy. The situation of COVID-19 is under control. Both the number of deaths and new cases are very low," he said.
Tanes said representatives of Thailand's private sector will be visiting China for business cooperation later. "It will be very good collaboration between Thailand and China," he added.
Phuket, one of the most popular island destinations among Chinese tourists, now has about 60 percent of its private sector back in business. Bhumikitti Ruktaengam, advisory chairman of the Phuket Tourist Association, told local media that about 20 percent of the island's suspended businesses could reopen if Chinese tourists return.
In addition to Chinese tourists' enjoying the beaches and food, "we would like to promote exclusive tour packages in the northeast region, the less-trampled corner of Thailand, which is filled with natural beauty", Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the tourism authority, said.