No More Bets: The once-beloved destination of Thailand for millions of Chinese tourists, known for its water fights, lantern festivals, and delectable cuisine, has seen its image tarnished among many Chinese travelers due to social media rumors and a popular movie.
This negative perception now portrays Thailand as a place of danger, illegality, and shady border scams, leading to a significant drop in visitor numbers.
Thailand heavily relies on tourism, with a substantial portion coming from China, where over 10 million Chinese tourists used to visit annually before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Thai capital, Bangkok, is eagerly awaiting the return of these numbers to revive its struggling tourism industry.
However, viral rumors on social media have alleged that tourists could be abducted and forced to work in exploitative scam compounds across the borders in countries like Myanmar or Cambodia.
Despite her parents’ disapproval, Chinese tourist Jia Xueqiong and her family spent a week in Thailand.
Film “No More Bets” Sparks Concerns Among Chinese Tourists About Traveling to Thailand
The 44-year-old nurse, speaking outside Bangkok’s unusually tranquil Grand Palace, recounted her family and friends’ apprehensions: “They felt it was unsafe here and tried to dissuade us from coming.”
She added that her friends had advised her to explore the destination first, saying, “You go first to explore; if it’s okay, we will follow.”
These concerns stemmed from the impact of the film “No More Bets,” a high-octane thriller claiming to be inspired by “real events.”
The movie revolves around a computer programmer who finds himself trapped in a violent scamming operation in Southeast Asia, having been trafficked through a country that bears a striking resemblance to Thailand.
While the movie is partially grounded in reality, extensive reporting by AFP and other media outlets has documented the phenomenon of thousands of Chinese individuals being enticed to centers in Southeast Asia, particularly in Myanmar and Cambodia, where they engage in online scams that defraud victims of significant sums of money.
However, it’s important to note that most of those involved are deceived with false promises of lucrative employment opportunities. There have been no reports of individuals being abducted off the streets while on vacation in Thailand.
Despite being released only in August, “No More Bets” has become the third-most-popular film in China this year, grossing 3.8 billion yuan (US$521 million) and sparking intense online discussions about the potential risks of traveling to Thailand.
Leanna Qian, a 22-year-old student from Beijing, expressed her concerns, acknowledging that while some of the stories in the film might be exaggerated, she remained apprehensive about visiting Thailand.
She stated, “I’m worried that we’ll be taken to other places, such as Cambodia or Myanmar.”
Decline in Chinese Tourism to Thailand: Impact of Online Rumors and Recovery Efforts
In 2019, Thailand recorded a historic milestone by hosting an unprecedented 11 million Chinese tourists, constituting a quarter of all visitors that year, as per official data.
However, as of the beginning of 2023, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Thailand has significantly dwindled to just 2.3 million. In response, the Thai government recently introduced temporary visa-free travel for Chinese travelers in an effort to revitalize tourism.
Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, the president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, noted that negative online discussions have contributed to this decline, stating, “Incidents may not actually occur in Thailand, but Thailand becomes a target.”
These rumors began circulating online in March and spread rapidly, with posts garnering millions of shares and views. Topics related to the safety of travel in Southeast Asia gained traction on Weibo.
The persistence of these rumors prompted the Thai embassy in Beijing to release a statement earlier this year, assuring visitors that measures were in place to ensure their safety.
Across the border, Chhay Sivlin, the president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, described an even more challenging situation. She mentioned that her company has not received any Chinese tour groups so far this year, and feedback from potential tourists has highlighted concerns about safety.
Chhay Sivlin expressed optimism that if the Chinese government extends assistance, tourism could recover swiftly because Chinese travelers tend to heed their government’s advice.