China okays group tours to Thailand

China okays group tours to Thailand

Japan and South Korea left off list of 20 approved countries

A Chinese tour group visits the Grand Palace in Bangkok in 2018. (Bangkok Post File Photo)
A Chinese tour group visits the Grand Palace in Bangkok in 2018. (Bangkok Post File Photo)

BEIJING: China will allow overseas group tours to resume to 20 countries including Thailand, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism said on Friday.

The approval, effective from Feb 6, covers trips organised by tour agencies and online travel companies for Chinese citizens, it said.

Authorities will allow group tours and “flight+hotel” services to 20 countries. In addition to Thailand, they are: Indonesia, Cambodia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Laos, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, Russia, Switzerland, Hungary, New Zealand, Fiji, Cuba and Argentina.

The notice issued by the ministry called on local authorities in China to closely monitor travel businesses to ensure their tours met standards. They were also asked to watch for tours being promoted with “unreasonably low prices”.

So-called zero-dollar tours are a perennial problem in Thailand. Operators of such tours recoup their costs and more by herding groups into shops and attractions that pay kickbacks.

China is by far the biggest source of tourists to Thailand, but the recent relaxation of travel restrictions by Beijing applied to individual travellers only.

Chinese tourist arrivals are forecast to start picking up in the second quarter and could reach 7-8 million for the whole year, which could raise the total number of foreign arrivals to 26-27 million, according to a recent survey by the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC).

In 2019, the country welcomed 11.5 million Chinese visitors out of a total of 40 million international arrivals.

Significantly, Japan and South Korea are not on Beijing’s preliminary list of approved destinations for Chinese groups.

When China reopened its borders on Jan 8, a number of countries, including Japan and South Korea, strengthened their border controls for travellers from China to prevent the spread of Covid-19 amid fears over widespread infections there.

In response, Beijing halted issuing visas to citizens of the two Asian neighbours, criticising their entry restrictions on visitors from China as “discriminatory”.

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