BANGKOK — For millions of Chinese tourists, Thailand used to be a happy land of water fights, lantern festivals and delicious food.
But thanks to social media rumours and a blockbuster movie, the kingdom’s image among many Chinese people is now one of dangerous illegality and seedy scam border compounds — leaving visitor numbers plummeting.
Thailand is hugely reliant on tourism, particularly from China. The country welcomed more than 10 million Chinese visitors each year before the Covid-19 pandemic — numbers Bangkok is desperate to see return.
But its struggling holiday industry has been hit by viral social media rumours claiming that tourists might be kidnapped and sent across the border to work in brutal scamming compounds in Myanmar or Cambodia.
But most of those involved are tricked into it with fake offers of lucrative work — not dragged off the streets while on holiday — and so far, no such scam compounds have been found in Thailand.
Despite only being released in August, No More Bets has become the third-most-popular film in China this year, raking in 3.8 billion yuan (S$711 million) and super-charging online discussion about the dangers of visiting Thailand.
Beijing student Leanna Qian, 22, told AFP that while she knew some of the stories were “exaggerated”, she was still concerned about travelling to the kingdom.
“I’m worried that we’ll be taken to other places, such as Cambodia or Myanmar,” she said.
Thailand welcomed a record-breaking 11 million Chinese tourists in 2019 — a quarter of all visitors that year, according to official data.
But since the start of 2023, only 2.3 million Chinese tourists have come, and last week the Thai government announced temporary visa-free travel for Chinese travellers in a bid to restart the flow.