BANGKOK, Thailand: Following China's reopening and the end of its strict COVID-19 restrictions, businesses on Thailand's holiday island of Phuket are preparing for the return of Chinese tourists, which they hope can boost their flagging fortunes.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic , about one-third of Thailand's tourists were Chinese, who once spent a quarter of a trillion US dollars on global travel.
Speedboat driver Wittaya Yooyen, 56, who operates a water-sports business at Patong beach, said, "I am so ready to welcome Chinese tourists. I am so ready because with them here it is good money. It is good that the Chinese are coming, and I am not worried about COVID-19."
His business, which offers paragliding, water skiing and other activities, suffered heavy losses during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Thailand's had strict entry conditions and long mandatory quarantine periods.
Asia's holiday hotspots are now welcoming the return of Chinese tourists, who are celebrating the Lunar New Year, as tourism in the region is benefitting from pent up demand and the end of most travel restrictions.
Thailand's government is expecting at least five million Chinese tourist arrivals this year, with 300,000 in the first quarter.
Phuket, which attracts some one-quarter of Thailand's annual tourist arrivals, is expected to benefit from the surge in Chinese tourists.
Many of the island's businesses suffered severely from the pandemic, as the island economy is almost entirely dependent upon tourism.