Chinese tourists are returning – but not to Thailand


For Chinese tourists in Bangkok, 76 Garage, an open-air restaurant on the northern outskirts of the Thai capital, has long been near the top of the list of places to visit.

And they go there not for the food, but the waiters.

In the middle of the restaurant is a swimming pool. The evening reaches its highlight when the waiters, all fit young men, strip down to their shorts and wade into the pool, offering to carry the diners for a photo op and a tip.

There was a time when 76 Garage was so popular you needed to book a month in advance to get a table. These days half the tables are empty.

Thailand’s lauded tourist industry is missing its biggest customers: the Chinese.

When China finally lifted zero-Covid restrictions in January, allowing its citizens to travel overseas, Thailand had high hopes. It expected an upsurge in business that would help its tourist industry recover much of the ground it lost during the Covid pandemic.

The government predicted as many as five million Chinese tourist arrivals by the end of the year – still less than half the nearly 11 million who came in 2019. But a big improvement on last year, when there were only 270,000.

That rosy scenario has turned out to be far too optimistic. Fewer than 2.5 million came in the first nine months of 2023.


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