Minister’s visa-free plan scuttled

BANGKOK, 23 August 2019: Thailand’s Minister of Tourism and Sports, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, faced his first setback Tuesday when the Cabinet scotched his proposal to give Chinese and Indian travel visa-free travel.

The Minister, who took over the post 10 July, had earlier proposed a 30-day visa-free stay for the two nationalities starting 1 November and lasting for one year.

Despite gaining the support of tourism industry leaders and trade associations including the influential Association of Thai Travel Agents, opposition from key ministers in the Cabinet scuttled the plan.

As a sop to the Minister of Tourism, the Cabinet approved an extension of the visa-on-arrival fee waiver for 18 countries effective 1 November. The six-month extension will end on 30 April 2020.

It means Chinese and Indians will continue to queue for a visa-on-arrival at Thai airports but will not need to pay the THB2,000 fee.

Some ministers objected to visa-free entry, saying it would reduce visa-fee earnings by an estimated THB1 billion. However, there are no fees earned on the visa-on-arrival either for the 18-month period that ends next April.

To speed up the visa-on-arrival process citizens of most of the 18 countries can file their application online.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed the visa-free proposal might encourage a “massive influx of tourists who might exploit the measure to escape from hardship and settle illegally in Thailand.”

Foreign Affairs Minister, Don Pramudwinai, said it would undermine the country’s policy to encourage “quality tourism,” a euphemism for cashed-up tourists.

Almost as an afterthought, Phiphat told the local media he would now propose extending opening hours from 0200 to 0440 at night entertainment venues in some tourist destinations.

Phiphat recognises he will probably have to settle for 0400 closing hours in just Pattaya, Phuket, Krabi and Chiang Mai, rather than nationwide.

The proposal will probably gain an airing at a Cabinet meeting in early September and possibly could face the same fate as the visa-free stays.