At least five million Chinese tourists are expected to visit Thailand by the end of the year after the government's visa-free policy for China and Kazakhstan went into effect on Monday, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).
The visa exemption for holders of Chinese and Kazakh passports is part of the Quick Win proactive measure, which continues until Feb 29 next year, as announced by the Interior Ministry on Sept 18.
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin personally welcomed Chinese tourists at Suvarnabhumi airport on Monday, the first day of the policy.
Mr Srettha welcomed the first group of 341 Chinese tourists from a Thai AirAsia flight at Suvarnabhumi airport.
Dancers in traditional costumes and puppeteers also performed for the surprised arrivals.
The prime minister said the visa-free policy has increased tour bookings ten-fold.
Thapanee Kiatphaibool, the TAT governor, who also welcomed Chinese tourists, said the TAT expects the visa exemption measure will help ensure that five million Chinese tourists visit Thailand this year.
Ms Thapanee said the tourists are expected to spend around 300 billion baht in total during their visit.
TAT said it expects about 150,000 visitors from Kazakhstan this year and 129,485 during the five-month visa-free scheme, about 50% up on arrivals from the Central Asian country in the same period last year. This is expected to bring in 7.93 billion baht in tourism-related national revenue, Ms Thapanee said.
Besides Suvarnabhumi airport, welcome ceremonies were held at Don Mueang, Chiang Mai and Phuket international airports.
Mr Srettha said that an economic rebound for the country is an urgent government policy, adding that tourism will help spur the economy and create more jobs.
"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," he said.
From Jan 1 to Sept 17, there were about 19 million tourist arrivals, and 2.34 million were Chinese, Thailand's second-biggest tourism market after Malaysia.
This amount is about 37% of the number of visitors in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic.