Thailand and China have agreed to permanently eliminate visa requirements for their citizens starting in March, aiming to boost travel between the two nations, as announced by Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin.
This decision follows Thailand’s temporary visa exemption for Chinese citizens, introduced in September and initially set to end in February.
“Right now we’re ready to open the country and to take good care of tourists mutually. This is welcoming news,” Srettha said.
“It represents an upgrade in the relations between Thailand and China and boosts the significance of Thai passports.”
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin confirmed to the press that authorities from both countries are in close communication regarding this arrangement and are eagerly anticipating its implementation.
This step is a part of Srettha’s government’s efforts to rejuvenate Thailand’s crucial tourism industry, severely impacted by COVID-19.
Since his appointment in September, Srettha has introduced visa waivers for visitors from Kazakhstan, Russia, India, and Taiwan; he has also focused on reducing airport congestion.
The pandemic caused a dramatic drop in international tourists, plummeting from over 40 million in 2019 to 6.7 million in 2020, and further down to only 428,000 in 2021.
Despite significant recovery in tourism and Thailand’s likely achievement of its 28 million visitor target for 2023, tourist numbers from China have not met expectations.
Approximately 10 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand in 2019, but the recovery has been slow, partly due to China’s strict “zero COVID” policy, which ended just a year ago. Economic challenges in China and the scarcity of low-cost flights have further hindered this recovery.
Safety concerns have also impacted tourism, particularly following a fatal shooting at a Bangkok mall in October involving a Chinese citizen.
In an effort to reassure Chinese tourists, the Thai government briefly endorsed a controversial policy to station Chinese police at Thai tourist locations, but subsequently retracted the plan.
After welcoming only 270,000 Chinese tourists in 2022, Thailand set a target of 5 million for the following year but had to revise it down to 4 million. Even then, it is estimated that only about 3.5 million Chinese tourists visited last year.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand has set ambitious goals for 2024, aiming to attract 35 million international visitors, including an expected 8.2 million from China.
This new visa waiver policy, in contrast to the unsuccessful tourist police initiative, marks a significant step towards achieving these targets.