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Thailand to extend visa-free entry for Chinese tourists

By Agence France-Presse Published Jan 03, 2024 9:04 am

Thailand will extend visa-free entry for Chinese visitors, Thai officials said Tuesday, Jan. 2, ensuring access to a key market that could boost the nation's battered tourism economy.

Bangkok granted Chinese tourists visa exemptions last year under a temporary scheme that was due to expire Feb. 29.

Government spokesperson Chai Watcharong said the programme would be extended, after talks with Beijing which could also see Thais permitted to travel visa-free to China.

"We have reached an informal consensus that we would allow tourists from two countries to travel to one another permanently," he said in a press conference following the first cabinet meeting of 2024.

He added that the proposal would be formalised before the end of February, taking effect on March 1.

If approved, Chinese and Thai nationals will be able to stay for up to 30 days per visit.

Asked about visa-free travel between the two nations, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said "strengthening people-to-people cultural exchanges and mutual visa exemptions are in the fundamental interests of the two peoples."

"Competent authorities of both sides are currently in close communication on specific matters," he added, without confirming the arrangement.

Last year, Beijing granted citizens of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia visa-free travel from December.

Previously, only individuals from Singapore, Brunei and Japan were granted visa-free entry for stays of fewer than 15 days.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin hailed Thailand's announcement, telling reporters: "We are proud to increase the strength of the Thai passport."

Welcoming more Chinese tourists could offer a lift for Thailand's sluggish economy, a top priority for the prime minister.

The nation's vital tourism sector accounts for almost 20 percent of its GDP but has struggled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and changing traveller habits.

In particular, Chinese tourists—previously accounting for the largest percentage of Thailand's visitors, with around 11 million touring the country in 2019—have been slow to return.

Recent figures showed roughly 3.5 million Chinese tourists visited last year compared to 4.6 million Malaysians. (AFP)