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BANGKOK: Thailand’s economy expanded faster than expected in the first quarter, official data showed on Monday, helped by a rebound in private consumption and tourism.

The tourism-reliant economy’s recovery has lagged its regional peers due to COVID-19, but gathered steam as Chinese visitors returned in recent months helping boost employment and domestic demand.

The revival of the sector is expected to help offset the impact from declining exports.

Thailand’s state planning agency reiterated its economic growth outlook for 2023, as the country waits for the formation of a new government after the opposition secured a stunning election victory on Sunday.

Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy grew 2.7% in the January-March period from a year earlier, data from the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC) showed. On a quarterly basis, GDP rose a seasonally adjusted 1.9% in the March quarter, versus a forecast of 1.7%.

That compared with a 1.1% contraction in the fourth quarter of 2022, which was revised from a 1.5% drop. Economists in a Reuters poll had expected gross domestic product (GDP) to expand 2.3% year-on-year in January-March after increasing 1.4% in the previous three months.

The NESDC kept its 2023 GDP growth forecast unchanged at between 2.7% and 3.7%.

Last year’s growth was 2.6%. It also kept its forecast for 2023 foreign tourist arrivals at 28 million.

Tourism typically accounts for 11-12% of GDP.

Thais reject army-backed govt, opposition to open coalition talks

Thailand beat its tourism target in 2022 with 11.15 million foreign visitors.

re-pandemic 2019 saw a record of nearly 40 million foreign tourists, who spent 1.91 trillion baht ($56 billion).

The NESDC also kept its 2023 forecasts for goods exports to drop 1.6% and headline inflation to be between 2.5% and 3.5%.

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