The arrival of the first Chinese tourists in Thailand under the Special Tourist Visa program is a good sign for the Thai economy.
By Jason Hung
October 23, 2020
Economic development in Thailand has been significantly damaged amid the pandemic due to the shrinking tourism and business travel sector. In Phuket, the country’s second most popular destination for international tourists after Bangkok, for example, bars have been empty; streets, restaurants and beaches have been deserted; and almost 3,000 hotels have closed.
Fortunately, Thailand has only recorded a handful of domestic confirmed cases since June. And China’s local outbreaks have swiftly dissipated after Chinese authorities proactively tested entire cities where outbreaks occurred and have quarantined individuals who have been in contact with COVID-19 patients. As a result, Thailand and China co-introduced the Special Tourist Visa program, allowing a small number of Chinese nationals to visit Thailand. Thirty-nine Chinese visitors flew from Shanghai to Bangkok on October 20, the first such arrivals since international tourism was banned earlier in 2020. They were required to comply with a 14-day quarantine rule. If everything goes as planned and no local outbreaks occur in Thailand as a result of the trickle of Chinese tourists, it’s expected that a greater flow will be welcomed — helping restore the Thai economy.
Last year, Thailand welcomed almost 40 million foreign visitors. Such great numbers are unlikely before a reliable vaccine is available and in wide global use. In the meantime, Thai businesses, especially those relying on international tourists as major revenue sources, will continue to feel pressure. That being said, Thailand welcoming Chinese tourists within a strict regime including quarantine requirements nevertheless will benefit Thailand. If outbreaks occur, Thai authorities might need to halt the Special Tourist Visa program intermittently. As long as Thai authorities cautiously enable the inflow of Chinese tourists, more local businesses, especially those located in major tourist destinations, can better restart their operations.
Jason Hung is a PhD in sociology candidate at the University of Cambridge.