Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin personally welcomed Chinese tourists at Suvarnabhumi airport on Monday, the first day of the government's visa-free promotion for visitors from China and Kazakhstan.
Dancers in traditional costume and puppeteers also performed for the surprised arrivals.
At the country's biggest airport, in Samut Prakan province on the edge of Bangkok, the prime minister said the visa-free project had increased tour bookings ten-fold and more.
Mr Srettha mingled with passengers from Thai AirAsia X flight XJ761 from Shanghai. The flight brought 341 visitors from China, the first tour groups under the visa-free scheme. The tourism stimulus will continue for five months, until Feb 29.
"Tour reservations have surged by multiples of ten... We must encourage Chinese tourists to come to Thailand and visit not only major cities like Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket but also secondary cities, so that they stay longer in Thailand and spend more," the prime minister said.
At Suvarnabhumi airport, Mr Srettha said he witnessed quick immigration and baggage claim processes and that was a good sign for the stimulation of tourism, which the government expected to be an important engine of the national economy.
The government also organised events on Monday to welcome visitors from China and Kazakhstan at Don Mueang, Chiang Mai and Phuket airports.
From Jan 1 to Sept 17 there have been about 19 million tourist arrivals, and 2.34 million were Chinese, the second biggest tourism market for Thailand after Malaysia. This was about 37% of the number of visitors in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic, according to officials.
From Jan 1 to Sept 17, there were 109,865 visitors from Kazakhstan, compared with 56,529 in 2019.
Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Thapanee Kiatphaibool said she expected 2.88 million visitors from China during the five-month visa-free scheme. This should result in 140.31 billion baht in tourism-related revenue, 62% of pre-Covid-19 tourism revenue for the same period in 2019.
TAT expected about 150,000 visitors from Kazakhstan this year and 129,485 during the five-month visa-free scheme, about 50% up on arrivals from there in the same period last year. This was expected to bring in 7.93 billion baht in tourism-related national revenue, Ms Thapanee said.