The notion of charging tourists an extra fee to enjoy a Thai holiday has been around for 10 years. It began mainly as a 300 baht slush-fund idea to help out with medical bills when uninsured visitors fell ill. Although other forms of indirect tourist taxation have been introduced – for example raising the airport departure tax from 500 baht to 700 baht hidden in the cost of the ticket – the proposed entrance tax never got off the ground. Until now.
The Ministry of Tourism and Sports has now received permission from the government’s top economic committee to start the 500 baht tax from 2022 but as a “tourism transformation fund” to pay for environmental improvements at tourist sites and to assist the country to reorientate from a mass tourist model to a high-value one. There will also be private company investment to supplement the collection from tourists.
But the idea of funding hospital bills for unlucky foreign tourists is not specifically mentioned. An earlier proposal from the National Tourism Policy Committee to have a 300 baht entrance tax with about 10 percent – a tiny sum – devoted to public sector hospitals with non-paying guests may reappear in a diluted form later. It was never envisaged that the scheme would replace the need for foreign visitors to have adequate cover in the case of accidents or sudden illness.
Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourist Authority of Thailand, said the idea was to collect 5 billion baht with in the first year on the assumption that the country would receive 100 million foreign arrivals as Thailand reopens her borders to air and land travel. However, the detail has still to be worked out with various government agencies and the method of collection is not yet decided. The new cash can’t be included in the price of the ticket as not all airline passengers to Thailand are foreign tourists. Collecting the fee on arrival at airports might lead to utter congestion at peak periods.
The whole insurance issue for foreign arrivals in Thailand is confusing at present. All airline passengers must have Covid insurance to the value of US$100,000 for the period of the initial visa, but extensions of stay at immigration do not require it. However, some arrivals – with retirement-backed visas or via the Special Tourist Visa recently given a new lease of life – additionally require general medical cover worth at least 400,000 baht (Inpatient) and 40,000 (outpatient), with O/A one year retirees requiring it for immigration extension as well.
The costs of foreign trips to Thailand appear to be rising substantially even without the new 500 baht tourist tax. Health insurance, pre and post arrival health checks, compulsory quarantine for some and pre-departure Sandbox hotel bookings for others have all combined with more expensive flight tickets to cause some travel experts to be doubtful about future booms. Meanwhile, the land borders remain closed to tourists with no clarification how a reopening would affect entry requirements there. Fewer policy initiatives and more overall clarification are what the Thai tourist industry needs. And urgently.