The cancellation of flight slots by several Chinese airlines following low passenger demand won't have an impact on the government's visa exemption policy for Chinese citizens, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said on Wednesday.
Several Chinese airlines had requested slots to operate flights to Thailand and booked ground handling services for their jets. However, they decided to give up their landing and take-off rights as they weren't able to fill up the flights.
Mr Srettha said the sluggish demand is likely caused by the slower-than-anticipated economic recovery in China, as well as a government policy which encourages domestic travel.
He defended the visa exemption policy for Chinese and Kazakh tourists, saying Thailand's tourism industry would be in a worse shape without them.
Under the policy, Chinese and Kazakh tourists can travel to Thailand without a visa from Sept 25 to Feb 29 next year.
He said that as tourists are spending less since the pandemic, the government will ramp up tourism promotions in other markets and expand the visa waiver to include other countries, such as Taiwan and India.
The prime minister also downplayed concerns the scheme would lead to an influx of criminals from China, despite a recent report of Chinese citizens begging for money in Bangkok.
On Tuesday, Prachachart Turakij newspaper reported the government's visa exemption scheme has not led to a surge in tourist arrivals as expected, prompting several airlines to cancel their flight slots at Suvarnabhumi airport.
When the scheme was launched, the report said, the number of Chinese tourists arriving in Thailand rose to 17,000-18,000 per day. This was because the launch coincided with China's Golden Week holidays.
When that ended, their numbers dropped to around 8,000-9,000 daily, before increasing slightly to 10,000-11,000 per day in November.
Kirati Kitmanawat, director-general of Airports of Thailand Plc, said flights from China are at 60% of pre-Covid levels. Other countries have reported similar figures, with most reporting about half of pre-2019 arrival numbers.
He said other countries reported a similar situation in which flights from China did not fully resume.