The Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta) expects 1 million Chinese tourists in the second quarter of this year, following positive signs of flight resumptions, while urging authorities to help regulate "zero-dollar" tours and illegal tour guides.
Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, president of Atta, said as airlines work to increase both scheduled and charter flights, flight supply is ramping up.
Chinese travellers are indicating high demand for visits to Thailand, he said.
Mr Sisdivachr, who was re-elected as Atta president for 2023-24 on Thursday, anticipates the majority of Chinese tourists will be independent travellers, accounting for 60% of arrivals, as many Chinese tour agents have not restarted operations, unable to cater to large groups.
Roughly 500,000 Chinese visited Thailand in the first quarter of this year, a surge from 13,738 in the same quarter of 2022.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand recently upgraded its target for inbound Chinese tourists in 2023 to 6-7 million, up from 5 million, with more than 250,000 of them scheduled to visit the nation in April.
Mr Sisdivachr said all inbound markets are recovering, but the risk from the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war warrants further monitoring.
Regarding Chinese zero-dollar tours, he said tour operators have not yet experienced any direct effects as the association has only observed marketing campaigns, not actual tour groups.
The number of foreign tourists also remains well below pre-pandemic levels.
Mr Sisdivachr said the authorities regularly tell tourists to thoroughly review their tour itinerary in relation to the price, particularly as tour package prices are higher than normal because of expensive airfares.
Regarding illegal tour guides, a major cause is the scarcity of Thai tour guides trained in certain languages such as Russian or Korean, he said.
Graduates who specialise in those languages are increasingly disinterested in working as tour guides, seeking more secure employment opportunities, said Mr Sisdivachr.
He said the authorities should focus on training English-speaking Thai guides in other languages, or consider implementing a relief measure that would allow Thai tour guides to work alongside foreign guides to assist them.
Jaturon Phakdeewanit, director-general of the Tourism Department, said the department intends to sign a memorandum of understanding with China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism to address tourism-related issues over the long term, such as illegal tour guides, nominee businesses and zero-dollar tours, as well as the safety of Chinese visitors.
The department compiled a list of more than 100 legal Thai tour operators that partnered with Chinese operators.
The list will be sent to the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Chinese government for promotion to tourists, he said. This collaborative effort is aimed at preventing problems from arising.
Operators that are not on the list will undergo full inspections, and any Chinese tour operators found guilty in Thailand will also be prosecuted under Chinese law, said Mr Jaturon.