China and Thailand to Waive Visa Requirements Permanently from March
At the forefront of this diplomatic initiative is Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who, on January 2, 2024, announced that Chinese visitors to Thailand will continue to benefit from visa exemptions beyond the current temporary scheme, initially scheduled to end on February 29. In a reciprocal gesture, China has agreed to extend the same permanent privilege to Thai tourists, marking the success of diplomatic negotiations.
This imminent permanent visa-free policy marks a pivotal moment in diplomatic relations between China and Thailand. Effective March 2024, citizens from both nations will have the freedom to travel without the encumbrance of visa requirements.
This collaborative and reciprocal arrangement highlights a positive synergy, showcasing China’s commitment to mutual benefits by affording Thai tourists the same enduring privilege.
Previous visa exemption policy
Despite holding the position as the second-largest group of foreign tourists in Thailand, Chinese arrivals fell short of the target in 2023, reaching around 3.5 million instead of the aimed 4 million. These figures shed light on the challenges Thailand has faced, grappling with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and a slowdown in the Chinese economy. The contrast is stark when comparing the 270,000 Chinese tourists who visited Thailand in 2022 to the nearly 11 million in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.
In a proactive move to counter this decline, Thailand had already implemented a visa waiver for Chinese visitors in September 2023 (and initially set to expire in February 2024) aiming to breathe new life into tourist numbers. The impact was overall positive, with more than 22,000 Chinese tourists arriving in the first two days of the visa waiver—a clear signal of a revived interest in Thailand as a desirable destination.
The early visa exemption played a pivotal role in strengthening the relationship between China and Thailand. Its positive response not only boosted tourism numbers but also set the groundwork for a long-lasting visa-free agreement between the two countries, laying a foundation for sustained collaboration and mutual benefit.
Looking ahead, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has set an ambitious target to attract 8.2 million Chinese tourists in 2024, showcasing the country’s dedication to revitalizing its tourism sector and rekindling its appeal to Chinese visitors.
China implementing visa-free measures
In response to global tourism dynamics, China has also been proactive in waiving visa requirements to attract inbound tourists.
Last November, the country initiated a visa-free trial for visitors from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia. The policy, started in December 2023, is slated to continue until the end of November 2024, reflecting China’s efforts to reciprocate and foster international tourism.
Expected impact of the China-Thailand visa-free policy
In his address, Thavisin underscored the significant impact anticipated from the permanent visa waiver, emphasizing its role in upgrading the relationship between China and Thailand.
Building on the positive momentum generated by the earlier relaxation of entry requirements for Chinese tourists, the permanent visa-free policy is poised to trigger a significant surge in cross-border travel, benefiting both economies.
The move has already reverberated across various sectors of the travel industry. This is notably reflected in the surge observed in the Tourism ETF (562510) and individual stocks like Changbai Mountain, Dalian Asia Pacific, and Zonxing Tourism.
Meanwhile, Thailand is gearing up for a robust recovery in its leisure travel sector, with expectations to attract approximately 35 million foreign visitors this year. Eight new Thai airlines, including Really Cool Airlines, are set to start operations. These carriers, permitted to import a total of 60 aircraft, will compete with established players like Thai Airways International and Asia Aviation for a share of the more than 130 million passengers expected to travel through the nation’s main six airports this year.
In a further bid to enhance Thailand’s appeal as a tourist destination, the cabinet approved tax cuts on alcoholic beverages and entertainment venues. These include reducing taxes on wine from 10 percent to 5 percent, on spirits to zero, and halving the excise tax on entertainment venues from 10 percent to 5 percent.
These cuts align with the broader efforts to fortify Thailand’s status as a premier tourist destination
China’s plan to boost inbound tourism
Shifting focus to China’s tourism landscape in 2023, the China Tourism Academy, a research institution under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, reports an impressive recovery, with tourism revenue reaching RMB 5.2 trillion yuan (US$730 billion), representing 91 percent of the 2019 figure.
This resurgence extends to the civil aviation sector, witnessing a surpassing of domestic flight passenger volume from 2019. With a 19 percent anticipated increase in domestic flight passenger volume in 2024 compared to 2023, China’s aviation sector demonstrates sustained growth.
Moreover, in response to the global push for a resurgence in international travel, China has unveiled a comprehensive strategy to reinvigorate its tourism sector and attract a greater number of foreign visitors. China’s tourism industry, once a cornerstone of its economy, confronted hurdles such as a cumbersome visa process, limited flight options, and complex digital payment systems.
To overcome these barriers, the country has unveiled several initiatives including the optimization of visa and customs policies, the resumption and expansion of international flights focusing on major tourist sources, facilitation of digital payments, enhancement of inbound tourism services, optimization of departure tax refund services, and active promotion of tourism trade platforms.
These measures collectively aim to streamline processes, making China more attractive to global travelers, while also boosting collaboration in the tourism sector.
The China-Thailand permanent visa-free policy is a testament to the strategic decisions taken by both countries to enhance diplomatic relations and stimulate economic activity, particularly in the crucial tourism sector.
As both countries continue to position themselves as a prime destination for international travelers, the mutually beneficial visa-free agreement sets the stage for a flourishing era of tourism, bolstering economic resilience and strengthening bilateral ties.
For more detailed information on the latest visa updates, please read our China Briefing articles:
- A Complete Guide to China’s Visa-Free Policies
- China Resumes 144-hour Visa-Free Transit Policy for Foreigners – Who Can Apply?
- China’s 72/144-Hour Visa-Free Transit Policy Expanded To 54 Countries, Norway Added
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