Thailand’s Free Visa for Chinese Tourists: A Double-Edged Sword?

thailand chinese tourists

Aiming to Boost Tourism

The newly proposed free-visa travel privilege for Chinese visitors in Thailand, championed by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, is set to launch on October 1st. The primary goal of this policy is to attract more Chinese tourists, who previously made up the majority of tourist arrivals in the country. However, despite the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, the expected rebound in Chinese visitors has not been as strong as anticipated.

Economic Factors and Safety Concerns

According to Adith Chairattananon, honorary secretary-general of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta), several factors have contributed to the sluggish return of Chinese tourists. Economic pressure and the weak yuan have made many Chinese reluctant to travel overseas, although the weakened baht mitigates this concern to some extent.

Additionally, negative images of Thailand circulating on Chinese social media, particularly concerning safety, have made potential tourists hesitant to visit the country. The Atta has also observed that many Chinese travel companies have struggled to recover due to labor shortages and increased operating costs.

Potential Risks and Challenges

While the free-visa policy seeks to address these issues and encourage tourism, it has sparked concerns and divided opinions. Some in the tourism industry worry that easing entry requirements could lead to an influx of Chinese criminals, including operators of call center gangs and other illegal businesses.

Immigration Bureau Concerns

Immigration Bureau (IB) chief, Pol Lt Gen Pakphumpipat Sajjapan, has expressed concerns that the free-visa policy could create a loophole for transnational criminals to enter Thailand. He anticipates that the IB’s workload would increase significantly as they work to apprehend these individuals once they are in the country.

Airport Congestion

Another potential issue arising from the policy is the increased congestion at immigration counters. In response to these concerns, Pol Lt Gen Pakphumpipat has stated that the IB is prepared to follow the free-visa policy and is working on measures to alleviate airport crowding. These measures may include fully opening immigration check-in counters during peak arrival hours and designating dedicated immigration lanes for Chinese passport holders.

However, the IB’s request for more space for immigration checkpoints at international airports has not been granted by the Airports of Thailand.

Balancing Tourism and Security

While the free-visa policy for Chinese tourists aims to boost Thailand’s tourism industry, it is essential to balance this objective with potential security risks and challenges. The success of this policy will depend on effective communication and collaboration between tourism stakeholders, the Immigration Bureau, and other relevant agencies.