Yet another tax on tourism?


Baht 500 foreigner-entry fee on the table

The government is considering a plan to charge foreigners an entry fee from January next year, according to Public Health Minister Pradit Sintavanarong.

Pradit said that officials from the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, the Ministry of Public Health and the Royal Thai Police had discussed the matter and all agreed with the idea.

They expect the extra charge will lead to an increase in the quality of tourists entering Thailand, he said.

But I’m not so sure. It has been expected for some time now and it is a thinly disguised way for the government to introduce travel ‘insurance’ for all visitors to Thailand. Initiated by the Ministry of Public Health which has come under budget pressure with spending of Bt 300 million for tourists’ medical emergencies funded by the government.

With 28 million visitors expected next year that could add up to 14 billion baht in ‘fees’ collected. As long as the new tax doesn’t drive them away?

My biggest concern is who is going to collect this money and what is it going to be spent on?  I’m sure there are better ways to collect this huge sum than taking cash from tourists arriving at the airport?

In the past the government bundled the passenger airport tax with airfares which made a lot of sense.

I also worry that the fee will be open to abuse and scams and what will the surplus amount be used for? I hope for improvement in services and facilities aimed specifically at the tourism industry. Sustainability and the quality of the overall tourist experience could be improved with the new tax – establishing infrastructure (public transport, toilets and signage) and service training (guides, restaurants and service personnel at all tourist touch-points) and putting back a little of what 28 million feet wear away.

The Bangkok Post reported H.E. Pradit Sintavanarong saying, “The tourism and sports minister (Somsak Phureesrisak) told me that every other country is collecting entry fees from foreigners. … The money will be used for many purposes by the tourism, health and foreign affairs ministries, and the Immigration Bureau.”

The health ministry would gather relevant information and help the Ministry of the Interior in legislating the law. The collected fees would go into the national budget coffers before they are transferred to different agencies, he said.

He expected the new entry charge would take effect from Jan 1, but it could be put off to mid-January because there would be many tourists entering the country at that time and they might get confused, he said.

When reporters asked him if the plan could backfire and result in fewer tourist arrivals, Pradit said the Tourism Ministry did not oppose the plan.

“Now is the time for us to have quality tourists. It’s not as if inbound tour operators won’t organize tours for foreign tourists to come to the country because of the entry fees,” the health minister said.

Foreigners who stay in Thailand no more than three days would be charged 30 baht a day, while those who stay more than three days would have to pay 500 baht, he said.

According to reports, foreigners who arrive at airports would be charged 500 baht, while those who enter the country by land would be charged 30 baht a day.

The scheme would also prevent foreigners staying in the country after their visas have expired. There are about 100,000 foreigners in Thailand whose visas have expired but they refuse to leave the country, the reports said.

Samphan Panphat, adviser to the Thai Hotels Association (THA), said he disagreed with the 500-baht entry fee. It lacked transparency and would significantly hurt the tourism industry.

Authorities should specify the nationalities of tourists who might pose problems to Thailand, because there are many tourists from other countries who do not create problems when they come here, he said.

“The government should take serious steps to solve the problems in the country and to improve the quality of tourism here. Then things will improve,” Samphan said.

Sitdiwat Cheevarattanaporn, chairman of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA), took the same tone, saying it is not a good move and not in line with the government’s plan to promote tourism.

“The plan will affect the tourism industry, both in the short run and the long run, because tourists will feel bad about Thailand and they may feel they are being cheated,” Sitdiwat said.

Porntip Hirunket, vice chair of the Tourism Council of Thailand, said collecting entry fees from foreigners would dampen the tourism atmosphere.

Authorities should do a better job of screening tourists, enforcing the existing laws and preventing tourists from being conned, she said.