* January-April arrivals up 2.9 pct y/y
* Govt keeps targets of about 35 million tourists this year (Adds detail, outlook)
By Kitiphong Thaichareon
BANGKOK, May 16 (Reuters) - International tourist arrivals in Thailand rose 7 percent in April from a year earlier and the government predicted a pick up in Chinese visitors will help it achieving its target for 2017.
Tourism accounts for 12 percent of Thailand’s economic output, and has been a rare bright spot for Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy, whose growth has lagged peers in recent years.
The government was sticking by its target of about 35 million visitors this year after a record 32.6 million in 2016, Pongpanu Svetarundra, permanent-secretary of the tourism and sports ministry, told a news conference.
Foreign arrivals were 2.83 million in April and about 12 million in the first four months of this year, up 2.9 percent from the same period a year earlier, he said.
Growth in January-April arrivals “was not exciting” because of last year’s high comparative figures, Pongpanu said.
“But there is nothing to worry about. We believe foreign tourists are coming back, especially Chinese tourists, which have shown signs of recovering,” he said.
In the first four months of 2017, Chinese tourists, Thailand’s biggest foreign group, dropped 7.5 percent from a year earlier to 3.19 million, improving from a 20 percent slump in the final quarter of 2016 after a Thai crackdown on cheap Chinese tour packages.
The ministry expects at least 9 million Chinese travellers this year, up from 8.7 million last year, Pongpanu said.
The banning of Chinese tour groups to South Korea should also boost Thai tourism but any benefit may be seen from the third quarter as it will take time for visitors to change plans, he said.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s entry ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries also helped increase visitors from the Middle East, which rose 12 percent in the first four months of this year from a year earlier, Pongpanu said.
Reporting by Kitiphong Thaichareon; Writing by Orathai Sriring; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore