M. Shiva, owner of a Chiang Mai hotel in northern Thailand, has mixed feelings about the upcoming start of a visa-waiver program for Chinese visitors to Thailand.
The 32-year-old hotelier acknowledges the positive impact Chinese tourists have on the local economy, but his annoyance with the proliferation of so-called “zero-dollar” trips, offered by Chinese tour operators, is growing in tandem with their numbers.
Visiting Chinese visitors have a significant effect on local economies in Thailand, according to Shiva. The 2012 Chinese box office success “Lost in Thailand,” gained a lot of notoriety in China and has led to increased interest in Thailand, he said.
We need them, but we don’t know how to clean up the illegal tour operators in order to provide optimal support for Thai business owners.
By “illegal tour operators,” Shiva meant the plethora of businesses the government has taken to court, accusing them of coercing tourists for spending money at a collection of extortionately priced establishments owned by Chinese nationals.
Chinese Taking jobs away from Locals in Thailand
In a series of rulings that wrapped up last year, all 13 defendants were exonerated, but some tour guides and company owners are still wary.
“There are worries that Chinese businessmen will come here and establish up businesses, taking jobs away from local Thais. “They claim to have arrived because of the free-visa campaign, but in reality, they have been here for a long time,” a local tour guide named Paisarn Suethanuwong told BenarNews.
The free visa policy should be beneficial to the economy, according to Paisarn, a member of the Professional Tourist Guides Association of Thailand.
Last week, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin stated that, from September 25 through February 29, 2024, tourists from China and Kazakhstan will not need a visa to enter Thailand. The government anticipates that the initiative would attract 30 million international tourists this year, 5 million of whom will be Chinese.
Some in the tourism sector, the general public, and the media have had mixed reactions to the policy. The authorities know it’s risky, and China’s slowing economy might still wreck it.
Official data shows that before the COVID-19 outbreak in 2019, almost 40 million tourists from China visited the Southeast Asian country.
Since Beijing relaxed its strict pandemic regulations in January, Chinese citizens have been gradually returning.
According to the Ministry of Tourism and Sports of Thailand, there were around 18.5 million international visitors to the country between January and September 10. Of these, 2.21 million were Chinese, making up the second largest group of visitors after Malaysians. In 2017, just 262,441 Chinese visitors visited Thailand.
Chinese Exempt Visa Fees
According to Suphachai Charoenkittipaisarn, a researcher in the economics department at Burapha University in Chonburi province, the visa-waiver programme could help increase Chinese arrivals by making travel easier and cheaper because tourists will not have to pay visa fees.
“The targeted 5 million Chinese tourists is attainable,” he said.
According to the Bangkok Post, Immigration Bureau Commissioner Lt. Gen. Pakpoompipat Sajjapan warned earlier this month that the initiative could provide a backdoor for transnational criminal organisations, illegal businesses, and call centre gangs to enter the country.
Meanwhile, the Agence France-Presse stated that the August Chinese blockbuster “No More Bets” has caused some potential tourists to avoid visiting Thailand out of fear for their safety.
The film, which is alleged to be based on “real events,” follows a programmer “who ends [up] in a violent scamming compound in Southeast Asia after being trafficked through an unnamed country remarkably similar to Thailand,” according to AFP.
Local media claimed last week that Tourism Minister Sudawan Wangsupakitkosol had promised tough enforcement of the law against illegitimate firms, citing the fact that this year’s 2.2 million Chinese visitors had brought in over 100 billion baht.
After international borders closed and Thailand implemented its own limitations on foreign tourists, international tourism became a major drag on economic growth. Since then, GDP growth has averaged 1.5% each year, peaking at 2.6% in 2022.
Senior analyst at Siam Commercial Bank’s Economic Intelligence Centre Kamonmarn Jaenglom predicted that once tourism recovered, it would boost the economy as a whole.
In 2023, “[We] forecast Thai economic growth outlook to be 3.1%,” Kamonmarn added. Private spending and vacations continue to be a driving force. However, a full rebound in Thailand’s tourism industry may take some time due to difficulties in the global market.
To return to pre-pandemic levels, Kamonmarn predicts it will take until at least 2024, adding that “cost pressures due to high commodity price and labour costs” will keep international arrivals down until then.