Despite stringent travel restrictions in China, Thailand still received 36,246 Chinese visitors in the first five months of 2022, with 20,000 arrivals recorded in the month of May alone, comprising business travellers, students and Elite Card holders.
Even though the Chinese government hasn't given any hint about the country's reopening, the situation is expected to become clearer once the Communist Party National Congress begins in perhaps October, said Chuwit Sirivajjakul, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) executive director of the East Asia region.
He said if China partially eases travel restrictions for some cities, as is the case in nine cities at present, or if the country allows more categories of travellers other than business people and students, along with increasing the connections between the mainland and Thailand in the fourth quarter, Thailand could welcome 500,000 Chinese travellers this year.
"We see a hidden opportunity from business travellers as they tend to stay longer -- for two months -- spending around 360,000 baht per trip," said Mr Chuwit.
This group sometimes stays longer because of the hefty airfare and the lengthy mandatory quarantine period of at least 21 days upon their return, he said.
However, with the recent rules relaxation in nine cities, reducing the quarantine period to 10 days plus self-isolation for four days, more travellers may plan trips in the second half of this year. The nine pilot cities are Dalian, Beijing, Chengdu, Nanjing, Shanghai, Xiamen, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Fuzhou.
As tourist arrivals are highly dependent on air connectivity, five TAT offices in China have held discussions with Chinese operators to prepare charter services for Chinese New Year, taking place Jan 22-28, 2023. Those operators include Spring Airlines, Juneyao Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Sichuan Airlines.
Mr Chuwit, former director of TAT's Shanghai office, said the process also depends on the approval of the Civil Aviation Administration of China. In 2019, Thailand received 11 million Chinese tourists, generating 532 billion baht from an average expenditure of 6,118 baht per day, with an average length of stay of 7.8 days.
He said Chinese arrivals consist of businessmen, business leisure travellers, students and a number of Thailand Elite Card holders.
Last week, the TAT held an online trade meet with 50 Chinese tour operators during Thailand Travel Mart Plus 2022 in Phuket.
"According to the feedback, Chinese tourists are seeking quality tourism and switching from mass to independent travel as the outbreak forced them to change their travel behaviour," Mr Chuwit said.
The number of independent tourists from metropolises such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen will continue to increase, he said, but first-time travellers from smaller cities will still travel with tour guides.