Thailand scraps visas to woo Chinese tourists

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STORY: Thailand rolled out the red carpet for the first batch of visa-free Chinese tourists landing in Bangkok on Monday (September 25).

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin personally greeted them, after the country waived visas for Chinese nationals to boost the tourism industry.

Dancers in traditional costumes and puppeteers put on performances for the bemused visitors, who came in on a flight from Shanghai.

Tourism is a crucial driver of Southeast Asia's second-largest economy.

And one of the newly elected prime minister's priorities is to revive an industry that was hard hit by the global health crisis.

He hopes it can boost the whole country:

"We don't only intend to boost the economy for big cities like Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Pattaya or Phuket. There's been a discussion with the Tourism authority governor that we will also be promoting tourism for secondary cities more, so that tourists stay a long time in Thailand and thus spend more."

The visa waiver programme runs from September 25 until February next year, and makes it easier to enter the country.

The government expects 2.88 million Chinese visitors during that 5-month period, well up on the 2.34 million Chinese who have visited this year.

Before the pandemic, China was the largest source of tourists for Thailand.

The country accounted for 11 million arrivals out of a record 39.9 million tourists in 2019.

They spent over $53 billion in the country.

Monday's arrivals seemed to welcome the new policy:

"In the past, the visa-on-arrival still needed us to provided some mandatory documents, but if we’re visa-free, it’s just like when I go through customs and they only had to stamp my passport and register my fingerprints, I think it’s really efficient and convenient."

So far this year, Thailand has welcomed 19 million visitors.