“Waiving visas is inevitable because the number of Chinese tourists to Thailand is really big,” said Vichit Prakobgosol, honorary director for the Thai-Chinese Tourism Alliance Association and chairman of CCT Group, a travel service consultancy.
Neither Thai nor Chinese tourist operators were surprised at the two governments’ decision to discuss waiving visas for both sides’ visitors on Friday.
Lower costs and more convenience will encourage more Chinese tourists and investors to visit Thailand, said Vichit, whose company estimates it will receive 300,000 Chinese tourists this year.
Vichit said he believed about 5 million Chinese will visit Thailand next year if such a policy can take effect in 2014.
China is now the biggest source of tourists to Thailand, with about 3.22 million Chinese visiting in the first eight months of 2013, up 88.42 percent over the same period of 2012, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
If 2 million Chinese tourists come to Thailand per year on a 15-day visa that costs $25, Thailand could earn more than 1 billion baht ($32 million) a year in visa fees alone, according to the Bangkok-based TTR Weekly.
Wang Dong, a Chinese businessman in Bangkok, said what’s more important than saving money is the time saved, with better scope for business.
“The Thai visa is not as difficult or expensive to get as many other countries, but for a frequent visitor who lives in a small city, I have to hire a travel agency to help me mail my documents to the consulate in Shanghai. It’s troublesome,” said Wang.
Currently, only the Thai embassy in Beijing and consulates in seven other big cities including Shanghai and Guangzhou can process visa applications in China.
The young generation nowadays enjoy spontaneous and independent trips. A visa exemption will give them another excuse to do this, said Zhang Guangrui, director of the tourism research center with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.