Charter flights or large Chinese tour groups might be revived during the first quarter of 2024 despite the visa-free scheme getting underway this month, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).
Tanes Petsuwan, TAT deputy governor for Asia and the South Pacific, said this year's fourth quarter would be a preparation period for charter flights to start serving tour groups from December.
At present, the number of charter flights remains limited, while the visa-free scheme is expected to accelerate tour group demand coming via charter flights by 20-30%, said Mr Tanes.
He said the traffic from charter flights, which normally help transport tour groups from destinations without scheduled flights, would become more robust in the first quarter of next year.
The agency will cooperate with tour companies in second-tier cities to increase charter flights and large tour groups to Thailand.
"The majority of inbound Chinese today are independent tourists," said Mr Tanes.
Thapanee Kiatphaibool, TAT governor, said it is possible for Chinese tourists to reach close to 5 million as set earlier this year, banking on the visa-free scheme which might lure more than 700,000 arrivals per month.
As of Sept 17, the number of Chinese visitors to Thailand tallied 2.34 million.
She said this market should generate 270-300 billion baht in revenue within this year.
She said the agency will promote Thai tourism in China through campaigns and events in both major and secondary destinations, as well as gastronomic tourism, following the policies of Tourism Minister Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol.
The flight frequency between China and Thailand has increased to 96 flights per day, from 72 flights per day, according to Ms Sudawan.
Ms Sudawan said the government prioritised tourist safety and it has provided a 24-hour police tourist service to bolster confidence in safety.
On Monday, a welcome ceremony for 341 passengers of Thai AirAsia X from Shanghai was attended by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, the tourism minister and executives from the tourism industry, on the first day of the visa-free policy at Suvarnabhumi airport.
Tassapon Bijleveld, director of Thai AirAsia X, said the load factor for this flight peaked at 98%, directly benefitting from the visa exemption.
Mr Tassapon said the estimated load factor of all airlines serving Chinese routes would tally at least 90% during five months of this scheme that will end on Feb 29, 2024.
Thai AirAsia X now operates four flights per week between Shanghai and Bangkok.
It will increase this route to daily flights and open the Beijing-Bangkok route for four weekly flights by the end of this year.
Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, president of the Thai Hotel Association (THA), said hotels have seen an increase of 10-20% for bookings from Chinese guests.
She said the Chinese ambassador estimates that there would be around 100 million outbound Chinese this year, as the current number already tallied 40 million.
THA believes that Thailand still has the opportunity to secure 5 million if it is able to increase seat capacity during the remainder of this year.