Thailand, a popular tourist destination for millions of Chinese travelers every year, has seen a decline in visitor numbers in recent months due to social media rumors and a blockbuster movie.
The rumors, which began circulating online in March with posts shared and viewed millions of times on Weibo, claim that Chinese tourists in Thailand are at risk of being kidnapped and sent to work at brutal scamming complexes in Myanmar or Cambodia.
This rumor was further fueled by the August release of the Chinese film “No More Bets,” which tells the story of a computer programmer who ends up in a violent scamming compound in Southeast Asia after being trafficked through an unnamed country that bears a striking resemblance to Thailand.
The high-octane thriller has grossed CNY 3.8 billion (USD 521 million) and become a social media sensation, with many viewers expressing concerns about the safety of Thailand as a tourist destination.
The movie is not entirely a work of fiction as extensive reporting in the past has documented thousands of Chinese people lured to centers in Southeast Asia, mainly in Myanmar and Cambodia, and forced to run online scams.
However, most people who get trapped in these situations are tricked into it by fake offers of good-paying jobs, not kidnapped off the streets while they are on vacation. And so far, there have been no reports of such scam compounds in Thailand.
However, a Beijing student named Leanna Qian, 22, told Agence France-Presse that she was still concerned about traveling to Thailand, despite knowing that some of the stories were “exaggerated.”
“I’m worried that we’ll be taken to other places, such as Cambodia or Myanmar,” she said.
Thailand, once a popular tourist destination known for Chinese tourists has seen a significant decline in recent years. In 2019, the country welcomed a record-breaking 11 million Chinese tourists, but so far in 2023, only 2.3 million Chinese tourists have visited the country.
Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, the president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, also attributed the decline in Chinese tourists to negative online chatter. “Things don’t happen in Thailand, but Thailand is targeted,” he said.
In an effort to boost tourism, the Thai government recently announced temporary visa-free travel for Chinese travelers. It remains to be seen, however, whether this will be enough to overcome the negative publicity surrounding Thailand.
In neighboring Cambodia, the situation is even worse, according to the president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, Chhay Sivlin. She said that her company has not received any Chinese tour groups so far this year and that many tourists are worried about their safety.
“If the Chinese government helps, we will receive tourists soon because Chinese people listen to their government,” said Chhay.