The number of Chinese crossing to Thailand overland is expected to exceed 300,000 next year thanks to the China-Laos railway that should increase the tally, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).
Chuwit Sirivejkul, TAT regional director of marketing for East Asia, said this segment of Chinese tourists can add volume to second-tier cities in the Northeast.
Of the 3.5 million Chinese arrivals forecast for this year, about 2-3%, or 70,000-100,000, entered via four major border checkpoints, with some of them taking the China-Laos railway before connecting to Thailand.
Checkpoints in the Northeast include one in Nong Khai and two in Loei: Thali and Dan Sai. Chiang Khong immigration station in Chiang Rai is the gateway in the North.
Tourists typically travel by car or motorcycle around the Northeast for 15 days on average.
At present, there are two daily trains between China and Laos and six daily trains for domestic routes within China and Laos.
Chinese visitors not only came from Kunming but also other parts of the country, Mr Chuwit said.
Mr Chuwit said that based on the target of 8.2 million Chinese next year, the agency wants to increase the proportion of land border trips to 4-5%, totalling 328,000 arrivals.
The growth drive is based on improved sentiment around the Chinese economy and China-Laos trains that will have more frequency.
Last weekend, TAT hosted a special caravan tour inviting over 200 Chinese travellers to explore Udon Thani and the Northeastern Region, via China-Laos train.
Although Thailand has exempted visas for Chinese tourists, they still have to get off the train to apply for visa-on-arrival at Boten station in Laos, which costs around 200 yuan, before taking another train to Vientiane.
Mr Chuwit said the China-Laos railway committee is looking to improve connections for ease of travel.
Despite a sluggish economy, some tourists are keen to spend on their travels, particularly retirees who have savings, those with tour groups who love train trips, and independent tourists who prefer driving.
TAT is partnering with the Chinese car manufacturer Great Wall Motor to promote five driving routes across five regions in Thailand, as well as promoting Isan or the northeastern region to Chinese travellers at the China International Travel Mart 2023 in Kunming.
On Saturday, TAT also hosted a special caravan tour, inviting over 200 Chinese travellers to explore Udon Thani and other provinces in the region via the China-Laos train.
Thanaporn Pulperm, director of TAT's Udon Thani Office, said a lot of Chinese travellers travelled to Laos by train for leisure and business trips. Many Thais also booked outbound trains to China.
In the first half of 2023, there were about 6,550 Chinese arrivals and 8,468 Chinese departures at Nong Khai immigration.
Ms Thanaporn said the visa-free scheme would help attract more tourists via borders during high season.
She said Chinese travel agents also plan to operate chartered flights between Udon Thani and Kunming in January next year.
The agency will ask the government to suspend the TM6 immigration form at the Nong Khai checkpoint, after the cabinet approved this scheme to Songkhla in the South.
Ms Thanaporn said travellers from China, Laos, and Vietnam would benefit, and it would improve the tourism market in the region.
As Laos' weak kip and high inflation impact the Laos market visiting Thailand, the agency will encourage those who still have purchasing power to stay in the country longer with new destinations and local community products, she said.