Dancers in traditional costume and puppeteers also put on performances for the bemused visitors, who came in on a flight from Shanghai. Many stopped to take selfies with Srettha.

Tourism is a crucial driver of Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy, best known for its picturesque beaches and vibrant nightlife, and reviving the industry that was hard hit by the pandemic is one of the priorities of newly elected Srettha, who inherited an underperforming economy.

Chinese tourists are greeted by Thai dancers at the arrivals gate of Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok on Monday. Photo: AFP
China’s own post-pandemic economic woes, however, have meant that fewer tourists from what was once Thailand’s biggest market are flying in, a situation Srettha hopes the visa waiver can help to fix.

“We are confident this policy will stimulate the economy,” the prime minister told reporters at Suvarnabhumi airport, adding that tourist safety will be prioritised.

The visa waiver scheme runs from September 25 until February next year.

Thailand offers Chinese tourists visa-free entry to lift travel-reliant economy

The government expects 2.88 million Chinese visitors during that five-month period, slightly higher than the 2.34 million Chinese who visited so far this year.

The visa waiver was helping draw in new visitors by making it simpler to enter, said tourist Gu Siyi, 25, who was travelling to Thailand for the first time with friends.

“More Chinese tourists come to Thailand for holiday, because it is indeed very convenient,” he said.

The fruits here are great, especially the durian

Ye Weihe, Chinese property owner in Thailand

Before the pandemic, China was the largest source of tourists, accounting for 11 million arrivals out of a record 39.9 million tourists in 2019, and spending 1.91 trillion baht (US$53.11 billion).

Chinese tourists say they are drawn to Thailand for its beaches and food.

“The fruits here are great, especially the durian,” said Ye Weihe, 53, who said he also owns property in the tourist beach town of Pattaya.

So far this year, Thailand has welcomed a total of 19 million visitors.