Thailand is considering a pilot scheme to allow Chinese tourists visa-free entry into the country to boost tourism.
Pipat Ratchakitprakarn, the country’s tourism minister, told Prachachat Business newspaper last week that he was prepared to introduce visa-free travel for Indian tourists as well as Chinese visitors.
During the proposed one-year pilot project, which has been submitted to the cabinet for discussion, citizens of both countries will enjoy visa-free entry for up to 14 days.
It will possibly take effect from November 1, a day after the expiry of the current scheme that waives visa fees for Chinese visitors on arrival.
“This time I would like to propose visa-free travel, not a free visa on arrival. I believe it would stimulate the tourism industry and result in a much stronger conclusion for the high season later this year,” Pipat told the newspaper.
The proposal is expected to boost this year’s number of Chinese tourists from 10.5 million to 11.5 million, Vichit Prakobgosol, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents told Universal Daily News, a Chinese-language newspaper in Thailand.
Figures from the Thai tourist agency show Chinese visitor numbers fell in the first quarter of this year, but Vichit said he was optimistic that the visa-free proposal would have a significant impact on tourism during the vitally important fourth quarter.
China is Thailand’s largest source of tourists and accounts for more than quarter of all visitors in a sector that accounts for around 20 per cent of the country’s GDP, according to the tourist authority.
The 10.5 million Chinese visitors last year marked a 7 per cent increase on the previous year but this year the number of arrivals in the first six months dropped by 4.7 per cent to 5.65 million.
The decline follows a number of incidents that raised fears about visitor safety, most notably the death of 47 Chinese tourists when two boats capsized and sank in a storm off Phuket in July last year.
Zhou Jiannan, a Thai holiday salesman from Zhuyuan, one of the largest travel agencies in northern China, said that following the accident Chinese tourists had tended to shun Phuket and even Thailand at large. “Our clients dropped by almost half for several months after the incident,” Zhou said.
But Tammy You, a spokeswoman for Ctrip, China’s largest online travel agency, said Thailand remained the most favoured foreign destination for Chinese tourists in recent years.
She said the country had topped the list in terms of number of group orders on the platform in July, followed by Japan, Vietnam and Russia.
Thailand’s government has since taken a number of measures to attract more Chinese visitors.
Last November it added China to a list of 21 countries and regions whose citizens are exempt from a 2,000 baht (US$65) fee for visas on arrival.
The exemption was originally due to last three months, but was later extended twice and is now due to expire at the end of October.
Zhou said it was common practice for Thailand to waive visa fees to boost tourist numbers, but adding China to the list of 64 countries whose citizens enjoy visa-free entry would be unprecedented.
He predicted that the prospect of avoiding the queues for a visa at the airport would significantly boost visitor numbers, but sounded a note of caution.
Zhou said the Thai government had adopted a conservative attitude towards relaxing visa rules and added that he thought the prospects of the plan being implemented were low.
This article Thailand considers plan to give Chinese tourists visa-free entry to help boost visitor numbers first appeared on South China Morning Post