Passport Power Up! Thailand and China Open Borders for Visa-Free Travel

Thailand and China will permanently waive visa requirements for each other’s citizens starting in March, Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said on Tuesday. The move is expected to boost tourism, which plays a significant role in Southeast Asia’s economy. The premier added that the two countries will jointly promote economic growth and cultural exchanges. “This new privilege marks an upgrading to our mutual relationship,” he said, adding that the decision had been made after several rounds of talks.

Last year, Thailand earned 1.2 trillion baht ($35 billion) from 28 million foreign tourists, with Malaysians leading the pack at 4.56 million arrivals. Chinese, South Korean, Indian, and Russian travelers accounted for the remaining visitors. The government expects a rebound this year, with total arrivals predicted to reach 35 million, up from a pre-COVID-19 record of 39 million in 2023.

According to analysts, the decision to waive visas is also likely to bolster investor confidence, especially for foreign companies that operate in the country’s travel and tourism sector. The industry was hammered during the pandemic as people avoided traveling and businesses shut down. As a result, the Tourism ETF (562510) and individual travel stocks like Changbai Mountain, Dalian Asia Pacific, and Zonxing Tourism have surged since the move was announced.

Previously, China offered Thailand visa-free status to its citizens to stimulate the tourism industry, which is crucial to the economy. The move was reciprocated in September when Thailand offered a similar concession to Chinese citizens. The country aims to attract more tourists from the world’s second-largest economy this year as it recovers from the impact of the pandemic.

China’s move is one of the latest steps in its efforts to boost tourism and improve ties with neighboring countries. In November, it began a visa-free trial for travelers from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain to lure inbound tourists. It is also easing restrictions on its airlines to allow them to fly more routes in the region.

However, the decision to waive visas is unlikely to affect Thailand’s political landscape significantly. The country has been mired in months of a deepening political deadlock, with a real estate tycoon and the leader of a pro-military party vying to become PM. The quarrel has exposed Thailand’s opaque machinations, in which backroom deals among powerful elites often overshadow the voices of ordinary citizens. The situation is reminiscent of the fray in 2008 when conservative former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajiva was elevated to power through similar machinations.

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