A favourite destination for hundreds of Chinese tourists daily is the sand and surf of Koh Lan, off Pattaya. (Post Today photo)
The government is stepping up efforts to woo back Chinese tourists following a series of recent negative incidents.
One of the measures suggested by the Tourism and Sports Minister, Weerasak Kowsurat, for cabinet approval, is granting Chinese tourists double entry visas over a six-month period.
Mr Weerasak was speaking on Monday after he met representatives from private tourism organisations and travel agencies to discuss the recent drop in numbers of Chinese tourists and strategies to draw them back to Thailand ahead of the high season.
He said the private sector has voiced concerns that foreign visitors, especially from China, might not visit this year due to several recent accidents.
On July 5, the Phoenix tourist boat capsized off Phuket, killing 47 Chinese passengers.
On Sept 20, a Chinese woman was found dead at the popular Ton Nga Chang waterfall in Songkhla’s Hat Yai district, in a case police are treating as murder.
A week later, a video went viral of a Chinese tourist quarrelling with a security guard, who was seen to throw a punch at them, at Don Mueang airport.
The latest case prompted Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to offer an apology for the incident and promise to send a letter to the tourist himself via the Chinese embassy.
According to Chinese news website CGTN, the attack took place after the Chinese traveller refused to pay 2,300 baht for a fast-track service, which the tourist believed was unreasonable. Chinese travellers are usually required to pay 2,000 baht for a visa on arrival.
Referring to the incident at Don Mueang airport, Mr Weerasak conceded Thailand’s image has been tested and it is now the time for all relevant agencies to improve, particularly the arrivals sections of airports, since many millions of foreign tourists come to Thailand every year.
“Systematic efforts must be made to ward off the problem of extra fees levied on arriving visitors,” he said, referring to rumours of bribes being accepted by officials to expedite procedures.
“The guard who attacked the Chinese tourist has already been suspended from duty and the Chinese authorities have been informed,” he said.
Chinese arrivals fell 12% month-on-month this August, from 983,212 to 867,461, figures from the Tourism and Sports Ministry show. But the total number of tourists from China still grew by 16% to 7.7 million from January to August over the same period last year.
The minister said Chinese arrivals also fell in various other countries, including Vietnam, Singapore and Japan, due to the country’s current economic problems lowering incomes.
An earlier forecast from the Tourism and Sports Ministry predicted arrivals from the mainland this year would increase from 9.8 million in 2017 to 10.9 million, surging to more than 11 million in 2019. In 2017, Chinese tourism contributed revenue of 561 billion baht to the Thai economy.
Gen Prayut meanwhile urged public and state officials to refrain from sharing the video of the airport guard attacking the Chinese tourist, saying that this would only be detrimental to the country’s image.
Referring to reports of bribes during the process of issuing visas on arrival, he said Pol Maj Gen Surachate Hakparn, the newly appointed Immigration Bureau (IB) commissioner, has stepped in to tackle the problem.
“I have given an instruction that those who commit this offence must be fired immediately,” said Gen Prayut.
Pol Maj Gen Surachate said officers will also bust brokers who have been accused of collecting extra fees from tour groups in addition to visa charges.
“No Tips” signboards will be installed in various spots at the airport, he said, insisting his bureau has no practice of collecting extra fees from travellers.
He admitted that in the past, tour agents bringing Chinese tourists into the country collected so-called tips, in addition to visa fees, and gave them to the IB officers. The tips were given as returns for facilitating the visa process without unnecessary delays, he said.
He said he had ordered bureau officers not to take such tips anymore.