This Valentine’s Day will be an opportunity for a very prominent couple to restore their troubled relationship. Thailand hopes to welcome 100,000 Chinese visitors for Chinese New Year on 14 Febuary.
Tourism authorities also hope 10,000 Chinese will wed in Thailand over 2010, which will bring celebrations for the 35th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Thailand and China.
The connection goes back a lot further than that, though. About 14% of Thailand’s population claims Chinese ancestry, with immigration from Southern China taking off after General Taksin – himself the son of a Chinese immigrant – drove off Burmese invaders and became king in the 18th century.
Thais of Chinese descent include both the Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his potential nemesis, ousted premier Taksin Shinawatra, as well as the bosses of almost any bank or large-scale Thai company you care to mention.
But Chinese tourists have deserted Thailand in the last two year, taking fright at demonstrations by supporters of Taksin Shinawatra and by the yellow-shirted PAD movement.
Even after the Chinese Government withdrew its advice to its people to steer clear of Thailand, Chinese tour operators say officials continued to warn them off.
Thailand’s tourism authorities are now predicting that Chinese visitors will bounce back to 1.2 million in 2010.
On Chinese New Year, which falls on St Valentine’s Day, the number of Chinese arrivals is forecast to shoot up 67% from last year to 100,000.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand also hopes 1,000 couples from Beijing will join mass wedding ceremonies in Thailand during the Year of the Tiger.