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The country saw 19.5 million tourists arrive so far this year, with the travelers from Malaysia, China and South Korea topping the list. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Bangkok: Thailand’s capital city will add a third passenger terminal to its biggest airport as the Southeast Asian nation prepares for a surge in tourist arrivals under a visa waiver program for Chinese visitors during the peak holiday season.

Airports of Thailand, which operates Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi international airport, on Friday opened for trial the satellite terminal built at a cost of about 35 billion baht ($1 billion). Airlines including Thai units of AirAsia X Bhd and Vietjet Aviation will operate from the facility, which is expected to reach its full capacity of 15 million passengers next year.

The addition of the new terminal comes as Thailand is expecting a rush of tourists during the so-called high season from now until the end of February for the local travel industry. Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who attended the terminal’s soft launch, said his government was promoting tourism as it can quickly help stimulate the nation’s sagging economy.

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“Tourism can create jobs and income for the Thai people quickly,” Srettha said.

“I am confident the new facility will make a good impression on international travelers” with its spacious layout and modern designs that may help position Bangkok as an aviation hub for the region, he said.

With the addition of the satellite terminal that’s connected to the main airport building through an automated trains, Suvarnabhumi’s annual passenger capacity will jump to 60 million from 45 million now. Airports of Thailand is also building a third runway at the airport that will be completed in the third quarter of next year, increasing aircraft handling capacity to 94 flights per hour from 68 now.

Srettha’s government, which took power earlier this month, has waived visa requirements for Chinese and Kazakh travelers for a five-month period to lure more holidaymakers as Thai economy faces headwinds from rising in oil prices and sluggish exports. Chinese were the largest group of visitors to the Southeast Asian country before the pandemic, accounting for about 28 per cent of the record 40 million foreign arrivals in 2019.

Thailand, popular for its tourist destinations from temples to beaches, is expected to welcome between 25 million to 30 million travelers this year, who may generate 1.5 trillion baht in revenue, according to the government. The country saw 19.5 million tourists arrive so far this year, with the travelers from Malaysia, China and South Korea topping the list.