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Bangkok, Thailand -- Three years after the pandemic, the first tour groups from China arrived Monday in the Thai capital of Bangkok, greeted by flowers and a warm welcome from the Southeast Asian country betting on tourists' return to boost the recovery of its vital tourism sector.
On Monday morning, officials from the Thai tourism authority and the Chinese Embassy in Thailand welcomed the first two groups of about 20 tourists each from Guangzhou at the Don Mueang International Airport. The tourists, on a six-day travel program, will visit Bangkok and then head south to a seaside resort.
The arrival of the tour groups comes as China, one of the world's largest outbound tourism markets before the pandemic, resumed outbound group tours on Monday.
Starting Monday, China resumed outbound group travel to 20 countries, including Thailand, the Maldives, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, and New Zealand.
"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 seeing many more to come," Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), said at the welcoming ceremony at the airport.
"I'm so happy and excited to be back. Everything goes on smoothly on our way here. We can feel the hospitality and warm welcome of Thai people," said Tan Mingyuan, a 43-year-old tour guide that leads one of the groups.
Tan, who has been working in the tourism sector for more than 20 years, said Thailand has always been among the top international destinations for Chinese tourists, expecting a "substantial increase" in the number of Chinese tour groups to Thailand this year.
Underscoring the importance of Chinese tourists to Thailand's tourism sector, which accounts for up to one-fifth of Thailand's gross domestic product, Yuthasak said "our thanks go to China, the Chinese tour operators and the Chinese tourists themselves for their continued confidence in Thailand as a preferred holiday destination."
Thailand welcomed 11.15 million international travelers in 2022, a sign of recovery but still lagging far behind a record of nearly 40 million international tourist arrivals in 2019, with Chinese tourists accounting for more than a quarter of the total arrivals.
Yuthasak said the TAT has set a target of receiving at least 7 million Chinese tourists this year.
The Bank of Thailand, the country's central bank, said last month that Thailand's tourism sector will exhibit a faster recovery following the return of Chinese tourists, expecting the Thai economy to continue to gain traction with continued recovery in tourism and private consumption thanks to the return of Chinese tourists.