BANGKOK, 23 January 2017: Thailand’s Tourism and Sports Minister says she wants to extend the free tourist visa concession for another three months after it lapses at the end of February.
Tourism Minister, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, is expected to present her proposal to the Thai Cabinet, Tuesday.
She will also include extending the period visitors can obtain a visa-on-arrival for THB1,000, instead of the customary THB2,000.
A belated crackdown on zero-dollar tours from China launched last September triggered the initial three months of free visas and a discount on the visa-on-arrival.
Pulling the carpet from under the feet of zero-dollar tour operators, caused arrivals from China to plummet.
Jittery tourism officials said it cut arrivals from China by 30% without acknowledging that the business had minimal financial value for the country re tax collection.
It prospers on shopping and attraction commissions that represent up to 40% of attraction entrance fees, service and sightseeing costs, or the price tags of handicrafts, silk and gems. Prices were inflated to fill the wallets of Chinese tour operators and their local partners. They lobbied the media when their pot of gold lost its shine and a sad story of massive losses in tourism revenue obscured the fact that ‘zero-dollar’ was indeed an apt description. There was no real value to country and legitimate suppliers, only the greedy few who schemed at the expense of travellers.
There has been plenty of talk about slowing the China market, encouraging quality rather than numbers, establishing carrying capacity guidelines when dealing with China travel, the world’s fastest growing market. In other words putting the brakes on growth to prevent it running downhill out of control. But that was just talk.
The reality is the minister panicked. She fears a major drop in tourist arrivals something the industry might blame on government intervention.
The government made the right decision. There should be no room for zero-dollar tours when a country can comfortable garner 30 million tourist arrivals despite all the outside challenges and security scares.
She should stick to her guns and clean up the China market with long-term goals in mind; safeguarding Thailand’s tourism reputation, creating balance in markets and striving for quality.
The minister told the Bangkok Post, last week, that the free visa and visa-on-arrival discount had helped to boost tourist arrivals in December and that during, 1 to 20 January, arrivals reached 1.8 million, representing a 6% increase. Visa-free travellers dominate those arrivals from more than 30 nations, despite China and India (both bound by visa requirements), so attributing a 6% increase in tourist arrivals to a free visa or one that was discounted, was frankly a leap of faith. Most visitors to Thailand do not require a visa so the scheme, apart from its PR value, probably had no impact at all on the bottom line.
For all the nations that need a visa, Thailand would be better served if it introduced an e-Visa facility using an online application, fast approval and a credit card payment. This would save potential travellers considerable time and reduce the queues at airport visa-on-arrival desks, that are a major pain point for travellers. Immigration officials could still vet applications, check blacklists that are online and reduce the need for costly, time-consuming travel to a consulate, waiting for three days under consideration, or posting a passport in the mail.
It would be particularly useful for Indian travellers who are tech savvy and they would be more comfortable with an online e-Visa service.
But extending the free visa concession and discounting a visa-on arrival by 50% makes for positive press. Free or discounted you still have to apply and queue. The process remains the same regardless of the absence of a fee or a temporary discount.