Thailand used to be a joyful place of water battles, lantern festivals, and delectable food for millions of Chinese tourists.
Though the kingdom’s reputation among many Chinese people is now one of perilous illegality and sordid scam border compounds, as a result of social media rumors and a big-budget film, tourist numbers to the country are plunging.
Thailand depends heavily on tourism, especially from China. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the nation received more than 10 million Chinese tourists annually; Bangkok is eager to see an increase.
Viral social media rumors that tourists may be abducted and forced across the border to work in cruel, fraudulent facilities in Myanmar or Cambodia have hurt the country’s already faltering tourism sector.
Despite the objections of her parents, Chinese tourist Jia Xueqiong traveled to Thailand for a week with her husband and children.
In front of Bangkok’s unusually quiet Grand Palace, a 44-year-old nurse told AFP that “they felt it was not safe here and tried to persuade us not to come.”
“You go first to explore, and if it’s okay we will follow,” all of her pals told her, she recalled.
The high-octane thriller “No More Bets,” which claims to be based on “real events” and follows a computer programmer who is trafficked through an unknown nation strikingly similar to Thailand and ends up in a dangerous scamming camp in Southeast Asia, fueled the worries of her family and friends.
The movie contains some real-world inspiration.
Numerous reports by AFP and other media have shown how thousands of Chinese citizens have been persuaded to go to Southeast Asian hubs, primarily in Myanmar and Cambodia, to run online fraud schemes that defraud their victims of substantial sums of money.
However, rather than being taken off the streets while on vacation, the majority of those engaged are duped into it with fictitious offers of lucrative labor. As of yet, no such scam compounds have been discovered in Thailand.
Despite only being launched in August, “No More Bets” has quickly risen to third place in China’s popularity rankings this year, earning 3.8 billion yuan ($521 million), and igniting online debate over the risks associated with traveling to Thailand.
Leanna Qian, a 22-year-old student from Beijing, told AFP that even while she was aware that some of the reports had been “exaggerated,” she was nonetheless hesitant to visit the kingdom.
She expressed her concern, saying, “I’m afraid we’ll be taken to other places, like Cambodia or Myanmar.”
According to government data, 11 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand in 2019, making up 25% of all visitors.
However, only 2.3 million Chinese visitors have arrived since the year 2023 began. Last Monday, the Thai government promised temporary visa-free entry for Chinese visitors in an effort to reopen the flow.
The decline was attributed, according to Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, in a statement to AFP.
“Things don’t happen in Thailand, but Thailand is targeted,” he claimed.
Online rumors started in March and spread quickly as a result of posts being shared and being watched millions of times. On Weibo, discussions on the safety of travel to South Asia were popular.
The rumors were so widespread that the Thai embassy in Beijing issued a statement early this year promising visitors that officials would “take measures to secure tourists’ safety”.
Additionally, Chhay Sivlin, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, told AFP that the situation was worse beyond the border.
According to Chhay Sivlin, her company has not yet received any Chinese tour groups this year, and feedback has shown that many travelers are concerned about their safety.
“If the Chinese government helps, we will soon receive tourists because Chinese people listen to their government,” she claimed.
Back home in China, tour operators are emphasizing internal travel rather than international travel, which pre-pandemic accounted for more than 40% of their tourism earnings.
The consequences of Beijing’s harsh Covid control policies, which prevented almost 1.2 billion people from leaving China after its borders were closed in 2020, are also having an adverse effect on business.
People needed some time to adjust to traveling internationally once more, according to Gary Bowerman, director of the travel and tourism consultancy business Check-in Asia.
“When you return from abroad, you start hearing about these frauds… People’s psychological willingness to travel is affected, he told AFP.
Domestic travel is also quite popular, particularly among younger people who see it as a hip alternative to international travel, according to Bowerman.
Staff members at a Beijing-based travel business that declined to be named were busy promoting domestic holiday sales.
The agency used to employ more than 200 individuals, but due to the worsening global economy, challenges obtaining visas, and a sluggish aviation industry recovery, it has trimmed back to only a few dozen.
Employee Guo, who asked to go by only one name, told AFP that “there is not much willingness to go abroad.”
She continued, “There’s also the fear that they might go but never return” for Southeast Asia.
Tourist Jia disregarded the worries of many Chinese people as she stood outside Bangkok’s Grand Palace with her family.
It’s not like being scammed or other things that are said online, she said.
“There is absolutely nothing like that.”
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