Thai officials have confirmed that travelers from China will be able to enter the kingdom without pre-departure COVID-19 tests, as they look to speed the recovery of the country’s economically vital tourism sector.
As China gears up to loosen its severe COVID-19-related travel restrictions this weekend, nations across the world that have relied heavily on the Chinese tourist yuan are gearing up for a sudden increase in visitor arrivals. But all this comes amid reports of uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreaks in various parts of China since the government abandoned its hermetic “zero COVID” policy last month. As a result, many nations, including the United States, Japan, Australia, and France, have imposed new rules requiring travelers from China to provide negative COVID-19 tests before admission.
Thai authorities yesterday broke with this policy and said that all international visitors would be treated the same. “Thailand does not require COVID test results from tourists from any country,” Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters yesterday, according to AFP, following a meeting between health, tourism, and transportation officials.
The Thai policy is no surprise. The country’s national communicable diseases committee has proposed to the Thai government that Chinese tourists arriving in Thailand will be treated like other foreign visitors.
Prior to the pandemic, Thailand’s tourism sector accounted for nearly 20 percent of national income, and border restrictions dealt a heavy blow to hotels, restaurants, market sellers, and tour operators, from the Golden Triangle to the Isthmus of Kra.
Since loosening its own border controls and quarantine requirements last year, tourism in Thailand has made a modest comeback – at least enough to pull many tourism operators back from the brink of ruin. In 2022, the country recorded just over 10 million visitors, a significant improvement on the 430,000 people who braved the country’s regime of testing and quarantine in 2021, but only around a quarter of the 40 million-odd visitors who visited the country in 2019.
A big part of this continued shortfall is the near-total absence of tourists from China, due to the country’s restrictive “zero COVID” policy. In 2019, Thailand welcomed a record 11.5 million visitors from China, up from 2.7 million in 2012. Such was Thailand’s dependence on Chinese arrivals that during past downturns in the number of Chinese tourists, such as when 35 Chinese nationals died in the tragic sinking of a tour boat off Phuket in 2018, it has responded by offering visa-free travel, free flights, and other perks in order to prop up the numbers.
The Chinese government’s surprise removal of its tight restrictions on international travel comes as a welcome bonus for Thailand’s tourism authorities, who are expecting international tourism arrivals to double to 20 million this year.
As such, it makes little sense to take an overly restrictive approach to arriving Chinese tourists, even given the risks of COVID-19 re-transmissions. Earlier this week, Thailand’s national communicable diseases committee recommended that imposing bespoke restrictions on Chinese tourists was not medically warranted, and that they should be treated the same as other foreign visitors, who are required to produce a certification of vaccination on arrival.
Recovery is likely to be rapid, given Thailand’s proximity to China, its relative affordability, and its popularity as a travel destination among mainland Chinese. Thailand’s tourism authorities in Thailand say that they are expecting at least five million Chinese tourist arrivals this year, Reuters reported, which, barring any sudden reversal on the part of Beijing, could be the beginning of a rapid recovery.