Thai Elephant Camp Welcomes the Chinese

Thai elephant camp adds more jumbos as Chinese tourists come to Thailand to celebrate Lunar New Year

The owner of an elephant camp in Phuket, Wittaya Taweeros, has purchased six elephants to meet increased demand from Chinese visitors. Following years of lock-down because of the Covid virus, China is now allowing tour groups to visit other countries. Thailand is the favourite destination.

Pang Chang Kamala Elephant Camp, on the resort island of Phuket, offers more than the opportunity to ride these gorgeous beasts. The Chinese can help shower the elephants, and can listen to the owner talking about elephant care.

Chinese giving an elephant a shower
An elephant enjoying a shower

The recent purchase of six elephants brings the total at the camp to 25. This allows the venue to receive 300 tourists per day, up from 200.

Wittaya said he was confident that more tourists will come. “We’ve already got 60% to 70% bookings after the Lunar New Year from the same agent we worked with before the pandemic”.

Thailand relies on tourists for 65.7% of its GDP

Thailand’s vital tourism sector is seeing a quick rebound after the lifting of Covid restrictions last year, with the present government expecting 25 million foreign visitors in 2023, including five million from China.

Twenty five million, in itself seen as an over-optimistic figure, is 37% less than the pre-pandemic figure of annual arrivals of 39.8 million.

The Thai government makes no secret of wanting the larger part of its arrivals to be Chinese. In 2019, 11 million Chinese tourists came to Thailand, 25% of all international arrivals. In 2023 Deputy prime minister Anutin gave a red carpet reception to the first tour group arrivals from China since both countries agreed to relax visa restrictions.

But it should also be remembered that most of the Chinese on these tours have already paid for their trip in Yuan currency. They stay in Chinese owned hotels, eat in Chinese restaurants, and are taken to tourist centres operated by Chinese. That does not help Thailand’s economy.

This is the real reason for the u-turn from the Thai government.

It’s not about health care, and not spreading covid. It’s about increasing the number of Chinese entering the country compared to other nationalities. Thailand can be xenophobic when talking about non-Asian, and non-Chinese visitors.

Deputy prime minister Anutin telling foreigners to wear face masks
Deputy prime minister Anutin telling foreigners to wear face masks

During the covid 19 pandemic, Anutin made a series of derogatory comments disparaging foreigners. Anutin wrote on a Twitter account, “…all you see are farangs, westerners. They flee their own countries for the safety of Thailand. In Chiang Mai, 90% of Thais are wearing face masks, although none of the farangs are wearing masks”. He went on to add, “this is the reason our country is being infected by the virus. We should be more careful of the farang than other Asians. At the moment it is winter in Europe and farang come to Thailand to hide from the disease. Many farang dress dirtily and don’t shower. All Thais who host have to be very careful”.

Following a negative public reaction to the Anutin outburst, the Twitter account was deleted, after attracting hundreds of comments across various media platforms, criticizing his ill-considered remarks, with some commentators pointing out that Thailand did not appreciate the contribution made to its economy by foreign tourism. Pressed on the matter, Anutin later claimed that he did not know who the Twitter account belonged to and that he did not post the comments, although he later apologised for them. The Thai language news website Khaosod covered the incident in detail, showing a portion of the original comments before the Twitter account was deleted.

A month prior to his March outburst, in February 2020, Anutin was criticised for remarking that foreigners should be kicked out of Thailand when he saw some who were not wearing face masks at an event at the Siam BTS station in Bangkok. Later, hearing advice from the US Surgeon General, Dr Jerome Adams, that the wearing of masks was unnecessary for the uninfected, Anutin changed his opinion

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