Once a favourite destination for Chinese tourists, Thailand is facing a tourism crisis due to social media rumours, and one particular blockbuster movie, that have created an image of danger and scams. Thailand relies heavily on tourism, especially from China, which used to contribute more than 10 million visitors annually before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Viral social media rumors have spread fear that tourists could be kidnapped and forced into scams across the border in Myanmar or Cambodia. While some basis in reality exists, with documented cases of Chinese nationals lured into online scams in Southeast Asia, there is no evidence of tourists being routinely abducted in Thailand.
The blockbuster movie “No More Bets,” based on “real events,” has further fueled concerns. Despite its release last month, it has become the third-most-popular film in China this year, generating over US$521 million in revenue and intensifying discussions about the perceived risks of visiting Thailand.
As a result, the number of Chinese tourists in Thailand has dropped significantly in 2023, with only 2.3 million visitors compared to the record-breaking 11 million in 2019. To revive tourism, the Thai government has announced temporary visa-free travel for Chinese travellers for the next five months up to February 29.
Negative online chatter and persistent rumours have played a role in this decline, affecting not only Thailand but also neighbouring countries like Cambodia where the online scams and negative publicity for Chinese is even worse. Travel agents in China are shifting their focus to domestic tours as concerns about overseas travel persist.
While some tourists, like Jia Xueqiong quoted whilst visiting Bangkok’s Grand Palace, dismiss the fears generated by social media and movies, the tourism industry in Thailand faces an uphill battle to regain Chinese visitors’ trust and revive its struggling economy.
An extended version of this article was originally published by AFP.