New visa rule may discourage Chinese tourists, travel agents’ association warns

FRIDAY, APRIL 28, 2023

Thailand’s requirement for Chinese tour groups to apply for individual visas, instead of group visas as in the past, may discourage prospective visitors from China, the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA) has warned.

Many Chinese tour operators complained to the ATTA in mid-April about the new requirement by Thai embassies and consulates in China, according to a source at the association.

Starting from May 8, every Chinese tourist is required to apply for an individual visa to Thailand, with no exception.

The ATTA is worried that this requirement would discourage large tour groups from China, with 100 people and over, and they may find it easier to travel to destinations with less strict rules, such as Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macao, or even some European countries.

Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, the president of the ATTA, said on Friday that several Chinese tour operators both in Thailand and China have been “puzzled and frustrated” with this requirement. He called on the Thai Foreign Ministry to urgently explain the matter.

The ATTA chief said that as millions of Chinese tourists were travelling overseas following the end of China’s Covid-19 lockdowns, Thailand should opt to make it easy for Chinese tourists to enter the country instead of coming up with a requirement that would discourage them.

He said the Tourism Authority of Thailand had set a target of attracting at least 5 million tourists from China this year but the stricter requirement could adversely affect the goal. Since January 1, more than 768,700 visitors have come from China.

According to the ATTA chief, every Chinese national applying for a Thai visa will have to submit proof of air ticket, hotel reservation, and a bank deposit of at least 10,000 yuan (49,000 baht).

Also, when acting on behalf of their customers, Chinese tour companies will be required to produce their valid “yellow card” of registration issued by the Chinese government. Sisdivachr said many tour companies had yet to renew their registration cards that had expired during the Covid-19 crisis. And the number of visa applications each tour operator can make is limited to 30 per day, according to him.

He warned that this new visa requirement could lead to congestion at Bangkok airports as many tourists would seek visas on arrival.

The ATTA secretary-general, Adith Chairattananon, said that the agency would negotiate with the authorities for relaxation of the visa requirements.

He said countries around the world are trying to get their share of the 90 million Chinese tourists expected to travel overseas this year.

“Why does Thailand create a rule that makes it more difficult to get visas. This goes against the global trend,” he said.

Adith also noted that a survey of Chinese tourists last year found that for 43% of the respondents, ease in getting a visa was the main factor fin their choice of destination for their next overseas trip.

Meanwhile, Department of Tourism director-general Chaturon Phakdeewanich said that the visa requirement in question was not new and that it had just been exempted by the Department of Consular Affairs for a long time.

He said the relaxation of the rule had been abused to include people not qualified to get visas. By applying for group visas, Chinese tour operators could organise “zero-dollar tours”, he said, adding there had been complaints from Thai tour operators about the issue.

Zero-dollar tourism involves very cheap package tours in which Chinese tourists are taken on shopping trips to buy overpriced products.

Chaturon said his agency would discuss with the Department of Consular Affairs on May 10 about possible relaxation of the visa requirements for a period of time as the tourism industry is just recovering from the Covid-19 crisis, with a return of Chinese tourists.

He said the Department of Consular Affairs had informed him that processing of visa applications would be speeded up although tour operators would need to submit more documents to comply with the new requirement.

Regarding concerns of more congestion at the airport due to increase in Chinese applications for visas on arrival, the director-general said that those who favour this option would have to pay double the normal visa rate. He said that the visa fee for the application at a Thai embassy or consulate is 1,000 baht per person, compared to 2,000 baht for a visa on arrival.