This photo taken on Feb 6, 2020 shows a waitress cleaning an area at a nearly empty restaurant at Ao Nang beach in Krabi province, Thailand. (NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP)
BANGKOK — There's a dearth of foreign visitors at Jim Thompson Farm, the reopening get-away tourist spot three hours drive away from Bangkok, despite the weather cooling and festive bells tolling.
Open for only six weeks of the year, the farm attracts visitors with its stunning flower fields and local cultural experiences. However, the farm remains a hidden gem for foreign visitors though the country has been fully open to international travelers since last July.
Chinese tourists accounted for almost one-third of Thailand's nearly 40 million foreign visitors in 2019
"Visitors this year are fewer than before. It's inspiriting to hear about Chinese tourists returning in the near future! Just bring your friends here to experience a farm tour," said Nui, a vendor selling coffee at the farm who has been so excited since hearing someone speak in Chinese after nearly three years' absence of Chinese tourists.
Chinese tourists accounted for almost one-third of Thailand's nearly 40 million foreign visitors in 2019. The country's tourism sector applauded the announcement from the Chinese government that it will scrap quarantine for travelers from Jan 8.
READ MORE: Minister: Thailand long awaits return of Chinese tourists
A festive mood boosted by the news of Chinese tourists' return has hit the tourism-reliant country. Most of the country's tourism spots have been equipped with Chinese signs.
In a historical park about 270 kilometers northeast of Bangkok, signs written in English and Chinese and QR codes for audio introductions are seen at every corner.
"Phimai Historical Park features some of the best preserved Khmer temples in Thailand. Although it's a less traveled destination for Chinese tourists, we believe that there must be a niche group who may be delighted in the rich culture and long for less touristy encounters here. All we have to do is to be well prepared for their return," Phon, a guide at the park told Xinhua.
Thailand's tourism body expects about 300,000 tourists from China to visit Thailand in the first quarter of the year after China reopens its border.
"The first batch of Chinese tourists will probably arrive in mid-January. We will have to figure out the labor shortage including hotel staff, drivers and Chinese-speaking tour guides. Moreover, a negative PCR test result is still required within 48 hours before departure for Chinese tourists when they return to China. So we need to help arrange testing points and facilitate hospitals to work on this," Yuthasak Supaporn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) told Xinhua in a phone interview.
"The tourism sector is gearing up for the return of Chinese tourists," said Yuthasak Supaporn.
He said the first visitors are mostly individuals who have booked flights and hotels online, and made their own itineraries using travel apps.
"Beaches and food remain their favorite activities. In this new chapter, we would like to promote exclusive tour packages in the northeast region, the less trampled corner of Thailand filled with natural beauty and authentic Thainess," said Yuthasak, adding that the TAT will propose to related bodies not to introduce restrictions on Chinese tourists.
READ MORE: Thailand expects US$64.5 billion in 2023 tourism revenue
The TAT governor's quote is echoed by Mak, a tuk-tuk driver in Bangkok who has been struggling to earn his living since the breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After parking his tuk-tuk on an empty road in front of the grand palace on new year's eve, the bored driver kicked his heels waiting for passengers.
"There seems to be a glimmer of hope when Thailand opened to foreign tourists in July, yet the full recovery still has a long way to go. It costs about 500 baht (about US$14) a day for me to rent the car and pay for the gas, but sometimes I only get one or two rides a day," Mak told Xinhua.
"We are looking forward to the return of Chinese tourists. They bring hope for an economic boom. We miss the once bustling Bangkok with an influx of cheerful tourists," said Mak.