(Adds context, background on tourism infrastructure issues)
BANGKOK, April 18 (Reuters) - Tourist arrivals in Thailand surged 16.27 percent in March from a year earlier, led by visitors from China, the tourism ministry said on Wednesday.
Thailand welcomed 3.5 million foreign visitors last month, the ministry said in a press release.
Tourism accounts for around 12 percent of Thailand’s gross domestic product. The country expects to see a record 37.6 million tourists this year, up from 35.38 million last year.
Tourism helped boost economic growth in the military-run country, but experts warn that the country’s infrastructure is buckling under record visitor numbers.
Thailand’s tourism body this month said the country plans to shut down Maya Bay in the Phi Phi islands for four months this summer in order to help the area recover from the tourism strain.
The country needs to upgrade the existing airports in order to accommodate the surge in tourism, industry experts suggested.
The Southeast Asian country continues to attract foreign visitors who flock to its famous islands, beaches and cosmopolitan cities. (Reporting by Kitiphong Thaicharoen Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Sherry Jacob-Phillips)