Visa exemption to boost China-Thailand tourismUpdated: 2013-10-14 16:35
BEIJING - Both tourists and tourism industry insiders are expressing optimism about the possibility of bilateral visa exemptions between Thailand and China.
On the heels of the original proposal by Thai authorities, Premier Li Keqiang has told the Thai Parliament in Bangkok his government is willing to hold talks about bilateral visa exemptions for tourists from the two countries.
Li Keqiang says visa exemptions for regular passport holders will offer Chinese and Thai tourists more convenience and promote more people-to-people exchanges.
Thailand is the first country within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to enter discussions with China on this issue.
The China National Tourism Administration contends China has become Thailand's largest tourism market.
About 3-million people traveled between the two countries last year.
That number is expected to rise to 5-million if visa exemption policy comes into effect.
Applying for a Thai visa takes between three to five days and costs about 240 yuan for Chinese citizens.
For most Chinese tourists, the cost is not the issue.
"It's not only about saving time and energy. Visa-free travel means we can simply pack our bags and take off at any time. It's a new holiday-making experience."
Travel agencies are seemingly equally optimistic about the visa-free policy.
Wang Pengju, from U-Tour, one of China's largest travel agencies, says he looks forward to seeing this development go through.
"It will definitely bring huge benefits to Thailand as a travel destination if the policy takes effect. First of all, there will be a remarkable increase of tourists. It will also boost the travel market."
The proposed visa waiver is likely to change Chinese travel patterns.
Wang Wei with the Thailand Tourism Administration Office in Beijing says instead of joining packaged tours, Chinese tourists are more likely to create a "Do It Yourself" trip.
"DIY tours are growing more popular among Chinese tourists [traveling] to Thailand. The number of DIY travelers is on the rise. They account for about 30 to 40 percent of total Chinese tourists that went to Thailand last year."
Thailand is becoming a popular destination for China's middle-income holiday makers, as the country has a solid reputation and can accommodate tourists at a relatively low cost.