Officials greet a Chinese tourist arriving at Chiang Mai Airport on Jan. 24, 2020.
Officials greet a Chinese tourist arriving at Chiang Mai Airport on Jan. 24, 2020.

BANGKOK — As fears of coronavirus spread across Thailand, which saw 14 confirmed cases of infection so far, a number of tourist establishments are closing their doors to Chinese tourists. And that’s perfectly legal.

Although police did manage to take down a sign at a restaurant banning Chinese customers in Chiang Mai, refusing service to particular clients is not prohibited under the law, chief of the Tourist Police said. But a tourism trade guild warned that refusing service to Chinese visitors will end up doing more harm than good.

“It’s not illegal. It’s their right to do so,” Lt. Gen. Chettha Komolwantana said in an interview. “However, it’s inappropriate because it can cause damage to the country’s reputation.”

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But a representative from a regional tourism group said Thailand is already taking damages from decline in tourist arrivals, and businesses should not make the downturn even worse.

“Business owners should not discriminate against Chinese tourists,” Kitti Tissakul, chief advisor to the president of the Association of Northern Tourism Federation, said. “But if they insist on doing so, I believe there are better ways than putting signs that hurt their feelings.”

He recommended entrepreneurs to instead focus on sanitation measures, such as wearing face masks, disinfecting tables, or arranging Chinese customers to sit separately from other customers.

The coronavirus outbreak is expected to deal a heavy blow to Thai tourism. Thailand welcomed 10.9 million tourists from mainland China in 2019, contributing the highest portion of revenues to the industry, but their number will likely take a plunge this year.

“We already saw about 60 percent drop in the number of Chinese tourists,” Kitti said. “Tourists from other countries also declined as they fear the virus. It’s not only happening in Thailand, but anywhere around the world.”


Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand Yuthasak Supasorn declined to comment on the issue, saying that he needs to verify the information first with relevant authorities.

President of Thai Hotels Association Supawan Tanomkieatipume could not be reached as of publication time.

Thailand is not alone in seeing an uptick in anti-Chinese sentiment following the coronavirus epidemic. Some businesses in South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, and Vietnam have also refused to accept Chinese customers, while Chinese and other Asians in Europe and the United States complain of racism.