Thailand's January tourist arrivals up 6.5 pct y/y

BANGKOK, Feb 16 (Reuters) - International tourist arrivals in Thailand rose 6.5 percent in January from a year earlier, the Thai government said on Thursday, with a recovery in the number of visitors from China after a Thai crackdown on cheap package tours.

Tourism accounts for 12 percent of Thailand’s economic output, and has been a rare bright spot for Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy, which has lagged its regional peers.

The number of foreign arrivals were 3.2 million in January, with number of visitors from China rising 5.5 percent from a year earlier to 860,000 that month, Pongpanu Svetarundra, permanent-secretary of the tourism and sports ministry, told a news conference.

Revenue from foreign tourists rose 12 percent to 172 billion baht ($4.92 billion) in January.

“The number of tourists came in as expected in January, with Chinese visitor numbers turning positive,” he said.

“It’s a relief as things are getting back to normal after our measures to improve package tours,” he said.

Chinese tourists, Thailand’s biggest visitors, tumbled 21 percent in the final quarter of 2016 following the crackdown in September on “zero-dollar” tours aimed at Chinese visitors on a budget. Zero-dollar tourists pay everything up front.

Malaysia and South Korea are the second- and third-largest source countries for tourists to Thailand.

For this year, the military government aims for 34 million-35 million foreign tourists this year, with revenue of 1.78 trillion baht.

That compares with a record 32.6 million tourist arrivals and revenue of 1.64 trillion baht last year.

Chinese tourists alone rose 12 percent to 8.87 million last year and the government expects 9 million visitors this year.

$1 = 34.98 baht Reporting by Pairat Temphairojana; Writing by Orathai Sriring; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips