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#trending: Chinese netizens afraid of Southeast Asia travel after hit movie No More Bets shows human trafficking scams

CHINA — Once a tropical retreat for millions of tourists from China, Southeast Asia seems to have fallen out of favour with Chinese tourists after the release of a blockbuster movie, recent reports showed.

In a Weibo post by Chinese news site Sina asking why people in China are reluctant to travel to Thailand, one online user commented: “I don’t even dare to go to Southeast Asia.”

Another said: “I want to travel, but I don’t want to die.”

An investigative video on Southeast Asia job scams by state media Xinhua revealed attitudes towards going to Southeast Asia, as one viewer said: “With so much publicity now, why do people still go to the fire pit?”

CAMBODIA, MYANMAR EXPRESS UNHAPPINESS

Chinese tourism to Cambodia plummeted from 2.36 million in 2019 to just 106,000 in 2022. While China’s strict “zero Covid” policy played a major role in this sluggish recovery, the “scamdemic” has also had a significant deterrent effect.

Although Cambodia was not specifically mentioned in the hit Chinese film, the Cambodian government has blocked the screening of the film in cinemas

Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has also asked the Chinese Embassy on Sept 27 to halt the screening of the film in China, claiming damage to the country’s international reputation, Cambodian news site Khmer Times reported.

The Myanmar government has also expressed unhappiness over the film. 

Myanmar’s state newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar reported that Myanmar’s Consul-General in Nanning, China, raised concerns with Chinese officials about the film that “tarnishes Myanmar’s image” and “was shot by China and released in China and around the world”.

The blockbuster, along with online rumours, has also scared Chinese tourists away from Thailand, news agency AFP reported.

Talk of tourists being kidnapped and transported away to scamming compounds in neighbouring countries have deterred tourists from China from visiting Thailand.

To boost sluggish tourist numbers, the Thai government announced on Sept 13 temporary visa-free travel for Chinese travellers.

The scheme has proven to be a success, Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said.

Mr Srettha said last Saturday (Sept 30) on X (formally Twitter) that a CNN report showed that Chinese tourists have responded well to the scheme.

Travel bookings from China to Thailand rose 20 times higher compared to the same period last year, travel site Trip.com stated. Trip.com also operates China’s largest travel booking platform Ctrip.

Similar moves were made by Cambodia and Myanmar. 

Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism launched the “China Ready” programme to improve Chinese-language tourism services in August, while Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s northeastern province Jilin to strengthen cooperation in mutually promoting tourism destinations in July.

However, efforts to boost tourism in Cambodia and Myanmar have been met with widespread scepticism online, New York-based news site The China Project reported.

Under a video introducing Cambodia’s China Ready programme, a Douyin user said, “If I go, I don’t think I can leave Myanmar physically intact.”

No More Bets, released in cinemas on Sept 14, is showing in Singapore. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY RUTH YEO.

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