The stellar box office success of Chinese chase comedy Lost in Thailand is proving a boon to the regional economy. Its impact is real and measurable. Its success is phenomenal.

More than 38.2 million Chinese have gone to see this movie since its release on December 12, 2012. That is more than the cumulative audience of Avatar, by far the highest grossing film in China with $230 million in ticket sales. Lost in Thailand will run in theaters until January 28, 2013. Its revenue has exceeded 1.24 billion yuan ($200 million) already.

Thailand could not be happier to hear these numbers because they mean a growing number of Chinese tourists in the immediate future. In 2012, 2.3 million out of 22 million visitors to Thailand were from China. This year, the Tourism Authority of Thailand expects to receive 3.3 million Chinese visitors out of a total of 25 million visitors, who will support a massive $38 billion industry from last year’s $25.5 billion one that contributed six percent of its GDP and hired 15 percent of its workforce.

Businesses in Thailand are already preparing for the upsurge of Chinese tourists. The largest Thai retail conglomerate, Central Retail Corporation, opened Central Embassy, a $336 million high-end shopping mall in central Bangkok for luxury consumers last December, according to China Daily. It will treat Chinese tourists as the target client group in the coming years.

Central Embassy in Bangkok / source: CentralEmbassy.com

The fourth largest Thai commercial bank, KasikornBank or KBank, also just announced its partnership with China UnionPay to service UnionPay’s 3.23 billion cardholders on January 23, 2013 (KasikornBank press release).

Compared to other countries in the region, which are also seeing an increase of Chinese travelers, Thailand is luckier because its relationship with China is amiable. The relationship is not strained by territory disputes like in the case of the Philippines or Japan. While it deals with internal political conflicts like last year’s insurgency, it manages to run the second largest economy in Southeast Asia smoothly. In the tourism sector, it ranks higher than Singapore and Malaysia in terms of value in money and shopping, according to Bloomberg News. By 2015, it will also complete the transition into an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Community, also known as an ACE, further raising its regional and global stature.

Now, the popular film Lost in Thailand is cementing Thailand’s congenial image. Its story familiarizes Chinese with its streets, its people, and its pace of life, and it presents Thailand in such natural beauty, cultural exoticism, and lush colors, which easily lure middle-class Chinese living in heavily polluted cities. The happy story of Lost in Thailand is bringing real value to Thailand and China. It is moving millions of people across national borders, people who may otherwise not make the decision to travel. It is impressive.