Thailand’s visa exemption sparks rise in travel bookings to China

Photo courtesy of Molpasorn Shoowong

The visa exemption agreement between Thailand and China has sparked a significant rise in bookings from Thai travellers. During the Songkran holiday through May, airlines and tour operators noted an uptick in Thai passengers on some routes outnumbering their Chinese counterparts.

Chotechuang Soorangura, Vice President of the Thai Travel Agents Association, highlighted the robust sales of tour packages to China during Songkran. The majority of these outbound tourists possess high purchasing power, affording the steeper airfares. In contrast, budget travellers usually prefer domestic trips or cost-effective outbound destinations such as Vietnam.

According to Chotechuang, Thai travellers have experienced no issues upon arrival in China, unlike previous reports of interrogations and deportations in South Korea. This ensures an uninterrupted flow of tourists. Popular destinations include Shanghai, Beijing, Kunming, Nanning, and Guilin. A four-day trip to a city like Kunming is estimated to cost around 30,000 baht (US$844), a 15-20% increase from 2019.

Many tour operators have shifted towards Chinese airlines, offering lower fares compared to Thai carriers. Wutthiphum Jurangkool, CEO of Nok Air, revealed that some Chinese routes carried more Thai passengers than Chinese since the visa exemption commenced on March 1. Nok Air operates two routes in China, Nanning and Zhengzhou, from Bangkok. These areas host attractions well-known to Thai tourists, such as the Shaolin Temple.

Inbound arrivals from mainland China remain resilient, maintaining a steady influx since the Chinese New Year, as per Chuwit Sirivejkul, the regional marketing director for East Asia at the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).

Chuwit reported that approximately 18,000-20,000 Chinese tourists arrive daily. For the upcoming summer season from late March to October, around 6.2 million airline seats will be available to serve the market, equating to about 70% of the seat capacity from the same period in 2019.

The TAT maintains optimism about attracting 8 million Chinese tourists this year. The projected overall outbound Chinese trips for 2024 stand at 130 million, a substantial increase from the 87 million trips recorded last year. As of March 3, Thailand has welcomed 1.2 million Chinese arrivals and 6.7 million total foreign tourists, reported Bangkok Post.

During Songkran, the TAT plans to host a special Chinese caravan tour for cross-border travel to the North and Northeast. Once the fiscal 2024 budget is approved, the TAT intends to subsidise more charter flights between China and Thailand, particularly during peak holidays such as Labour Day in May and Golden Week in October.

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Alex Morgan

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