Thailand is among the countries that welcomed the return of Chinese tour groups on Monday, complete with a ceremony held by Thai and Chinese officials in Bangkok that saw the first arrivals handed flowers and travel guides.
Two Thailand-bound groups, with 40 travelers in all, were in the first batch of tourists that set out from China since the country announced the resumption of outbound group tour services suspended for the past three years due to COVID-19.
"Thailand is honored to be among the 20 countries chosen to once again welcome tour groups from China. We are extremely pleased to receive these first groups today, and look forward to the many more to come," said Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, or TAT.
He said there were 14 flights from China arriving in Thailand on Monday, taking off from cities such as Guangzhou, Xiamen, Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Chengdu, and Nanning — all bound for Bangkok and Phuket.
"Chinese tourists contributed a lot to Thailand's tourism industry. Although the number of tour groups from China is still far less than the amount before the pandemic, we believe we will have more Chinese tourists back in Thailand soon," he said.
On Monday, the charge d'affaires of the Chinese embassy in Thailand, Yang Xin, handed travel guidebooks made by the embassy to the tour groups and expressed their welcome to the tourists.
The United Arab Emirates and some other Asian countries also welcomed the arrival of the first tour groups from China flying in on Monday morning.
In Thailand, those in the first group tours going overseas since China downgraded its COVID-19 management measures from Category A to Category B in December expressed their happiness and excitement.
"We filed for the tour immediately after the travel agency released the route. We've been looking forward to the resumption of outbound travel for such a long time. It's really an exciting trip," said Zuo Zhaomo, a traveler in one of the groups.
Traveling with his wife, he said that they used to go abroad before the pandemic. "This is the third time that we travel in Thailand. We like the country, its culture, cuisine and gentle people. After the trip in Thailand, we will set out for another group tour to Egypt," the retiree said.
Arriving at Bangkok's Don Mueang International Airport, the Spring Airlines flight from Guangzhou had 180 passengers on board. Among them were tour groups for a six-day stay in Bangkok and Pattaya.
Tan Mingyuan, who led one of the groups on Monday, said the Thailand flights were sold out in just three days. "I've been working in the tourism industry for more than 20 years. The past three years were really hard for us. But the great thing is that the tourism industry is now gaining vitality once again with more diversified routes to come soon," he said.
Yu Jiali, general manager of Spring Airlines' Southeast Asia Office, said the company has resumed 24 international routes, including 16 in Southeast Asia. She said that on the flights since the start of the Spring Festival, 90 percent of the seats have been sold.
According to the TAT, Thailand has welcomed nearly 100,000 Chinese travelers over the past month.
"It takes some time for a full recovery of outbound tourism. So far, Spring Airlines is operating outbound routes from seven Chinese cities and we hope to operate more soon," said Cai Wei, president of Spring Group's Subsidiaries Management Headquarters.
"We estimate we will see a real surge of outbound tourism from China in early March this year."