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Decoding Thailand’s Tourism Rebirth: Unbelievable Visa-Free Policy for Chinese Tourists – Will it Hype Revenue or Harbor Storm?

Discussion on the proposed visa-free policy for Chinese tourists, a viable short-term solution to boost tourism, will dominate the agenda of this week’s inaugural cabinet meeting owing to the anticipated increase in authorities’ workload. This reinstates the government’s dedication to revitalizing tourism, a crucial player in the foreign exchange domain, emphasized Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin.

Further details regarding the policy, scheduled to commence on October 1, will be expounded on during the cabinet meeting. The announcement follows the preparation by significant tourism provinces for the impending visa exclusion for Chinese visitors. The tourism industry has responded favorably, predicting a surge in Chinese tourists, who constitute a substantial proportion of foreign visitors. The prime minister, recognizing the value of tourism to economic growth, initiated his tenure with a tour of Phuket to understand the tourism landscape. Subsequently, he proposed a temporary visa-free policy for Chinese tourists to jazz up the industry in the short term; the policy is predicted to last until the culmination of the high tourist season during next year’s first quarter.

This move to revitalize the tourism industry is seen as the most impactful to date, given the grim adverse effects of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, spanning over three years. Notably, visa-fee waivers have previously been offered to Chinese tourists in the past. Pol Col Thanet Sukkachai, Chief of Phuket immigration office, does not foresee any hurdles in implementing the visa-free policy. His office spearheads the “white accommodation” program that traces tourists’ accommodation while attracting residents to local attractions.

While the tourist police’s mandate encompasses taking care of foreign visitors, local police will assist with issues relating to visa expiration or extensions. According to Pol Col Thanet, the impending visa-free policy will necessitate more tasking. As the biggest group of foreign visitors, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Phuket last month was 60,000, surpassed by the Russians and Australians with a margin. Phuket recently hosted 300,000 foreign visitors and the trail enabled by monitoring visitors has enhanced the security and assistance of tourists when needed. This has greatly contributed to the transformation of Phuket into a world-class destination.

The visa waiver, however, is a potential gateway for criminals, illegal businesses, and transnational crimes to infiltrate the country. The Immigration Bureau warns of a possible increase in workload in catching such elements once they have entered the country. This is also likely to escalate crowding at immigration counters. In Chiang Mai, Governor Nirat Pongsitthithaworn stated on Saturday that state agencies are assembling data about the strengths and flaws of the local tourism industry and potential ways to stimulate the sector.

As the province’s tourism begins to rebound to levels prior to the pandemic, tourism in the first eight months of this year has generated 63 billion baht in revenue for Chiang Mai. An expected increase to 80 billion baht in revenue with 8.8 million tourist arrivals before the year-end was reported by the governor. Also, efforts to combat the negative portrayal of Thailand on Chinese social media, particularly regarding safety, which has made some hesitant to travel, are underway. In such a climate, the visa-free scheme could be instrumental in ramping up the slow pace of arrivals by Chinese visitors.

Kemchart Somjaiwong, Honorary Chairman of the Khon Kaen chamber of commerce, stated that the visa waiver should coincide with the long week celebrating China’s national day. This period typically signals an uptick in the tourism season which extends to the New Year. While acting as a potential tourism cash generator, the visa-free policy will require stringent screening of visitors. Despite the inclination of foreign visitors to visit prime tourist provinces, Mr. Kemchart urges the government and tourism businesses to promote other provinces as well. This could ensure a more even distribution of revenue and make sure the benefits of the visa-free initiative percolate to those in the commercial tourism ecosystem.

A plea was made by Soratheproj Pojanarat, deputy spokesman of the Thai Sang Thai Party, for the government and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to address the negative publicity surrounding the tourist safety issue in Thailand. Unaddressed, the issue could have detrimental long-term effects, outliving the visa-free scheme. On a more encouraging note, Adith Chairattananon, honorary secretary-general of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta), predicts a potential inflow of half a million to 700,000 additional Chinese visitors in the last quarter following the visa waiver policy. Nonetheless, the policy requires a well-oiled and efficient immigration management system to prevent overcrowding at border check-in points.

According to Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, TAT deputy governor for marketing communications, the proposal for the visa-free provision has been warmly received in China.

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