Plans for a tourism levy in Thailand were being developed by Naresuan University and the Insurance Commission last year but were shelved in favour of attaining targets. The proposal will help allay key concerns among prospective visitors to Thailand stoked by growing international news coverage. It will be a positive move for the industry. Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn feels now is the perfect time to introduce the measure.

Thailand’s Tourism Minister is aiming to have a new tourism levy in place which offers health insurance including coverage for the Covid 19 virus before the tourism sector is expected to take off again towards the end of this year. This week, while dusting off the proposal that was shelved last year in favour of boosting targets, the minister appeared sanguine and realistic about the dwindling prospects for the tourism sector in the next six months and was more focused on the longer term.

Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn has revealed that he is pushing for the introduction of the tourism levy planned earlier last year which will also include insurance coverage against the Covid 19 infection. He predicted that tourism numbers would be lower than the 16 million targeted by the Thai Tourism Authority in 2020 and said the industry will not recover any momentum until the end of this year. Minister Phiphat suggested now is the time to introduce the oft stalled measure.

Thailand’s Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn has resurrected plans that were shelved last year for a tourist levy that would automatically provide health coverage to visiting tourists in Thailand.

In the first half of 2019, Naresuan University and the Office of the Insurance Commission was tasked by the Thai government to draw up plans for a tourism levy which at that time, was to include health insurance and also a fund to improve tourism amenities in the kingdom.

Last year’s tourism levy proposal provided for a tourism fund to include health insurance to cover airlifts home for tourists in medical emergencies

Then, the key consideration for any proposed tourism charge was health insurance and the provision of airlifts to foreigners injured in accidents or who became ill on holidays. 

The fee mooted at that time was ฿100.

Figure being proposed now is ฿300

Today’s proposals suggest a ฿300 charge but this includes full medical coverage against the Covid 19 infection. The new levy would, according to officials this week, be quite similar to the one being developed last year. 

It would involve the imposition of a levy on each visitor to go to a fund for use in building and developing Thailand’s tourism industry.

Minister sees levy being imposed at points of entry by land, air and sea as visitors arrive in Thailand

The minister said that the charge would be applied to people entering Thailand by land, sea and air. He described now as a propitious time to introduce the measure.

This idea had been examined at various points by Thai governments between 2013 and 2016 and like last year, it invariably died out due to fears that the charge would hamper the attainment of the government’s target for tourist figures.

Proposal that will allay many concerns about Thailand and cut off bad press that will otherwise continue

For foreigners or visitors to Thailand, the proposal for automatic health coverage is an advantageous one and a no brainer.

Indeed, the kingdom may have a competitive advantage over international insurance firms offering such coverage today at a profit. This would be as long as those insured can be certain of coverage while holidaying here without fear of questions over the small print on policies.

It will go a long way to allaying the negative press Thailand had had even before the Covid 19 outbreak with regards to tourist injuries and misfortunes in the kingdom. Such coverage has been amplified over the last two decades with the growth of international news media online.

Such stories invariably revolve around the predicament of people who cannot pay medical fees after being admitted, on an emergency basis, to a Thai hospital.

Negative press over tourist mishaps and stories of being left without cover have damaged Thailand

These are narratives that have regularly graced these pages and such coverage, based on true and harrowing stories, does not help Thailand’s prospects as a tourism destination certainly in western countries.

The key thing is that the finalised levy proposal must fully encompass such a comprehensive health insurance scheme.

Significantly, this aspect of the package was challenged last year as it neared final government approval which saw it eventually shelved.

Praise for treatment of some tourists left stranded in Thailand by authorities and the public

In addition, the outbreak of Covid 19 in Thailand has been amongst the lowest in Asia or in fact, the world. 

There has also been some appreciation of Thailand’s efforts to accommodate those foreign tourists stranded within its borders since the end of March. 

Many have spoken highly at the welcome and support they have received throughout the kingdom at this time of need.

In some places, this has included free testing, food packages, accommodation as well as the automatic extension of visas.

Part of a 20-year strategy to revive the Thai economy left staggered by this health and economic calamity

The government plans that the levy will be part of a 20-year strategy for the recovery of the country’s economy. 

‘The pandemic has had a severe impact on tourism confidence, and the tourism fund should set aside a budget for state agencies to carry on when looking after tourists affected by the pandemic,’ Minister Phiphat said this week.

However, he says that he favours a lower-level charge for visitors at between ฿100 and ฿200.

This proposal, at this stage, still must be finalised and presented to the Thai cabinet.

Minister thinks 16 million visitor target unrealistic

The Thai Tourism Authority still claims that the kingdom can achieve 16 million visitors in 2020 but Mr Phiphat already thinks this figure is not realistic.

The minister is of the opinion that Thailand’s tourism industry will reopen fully again for business, at the earliest, in the last quarter of this year.

‘The Tourism Authority of Thailand’s new target is 16 million arrivals this year, but I’m not optimistic we can reach that goal as international tourists will not come back before the fourth quarter. Compared with the last quarter of 2019, when we had 11 to 12 million arrivals, the new goal is too high amid these circumstances,’ revealed the minister.

International travel agencies say most holidaymakers only planning now for end of year travel

This view is supported by many western travel agencies and tourism booking concerns who indicate that most holidaymakers have cancelled plans for the summer and autumn. They are now looking at the end of the year.

An attractive insurance coverage package including Covid 19 protection would be a big plus for the kingdom in addition to its proven and long-established track record as an exciting and fulfilling destination for tourists.

Governor of Tourism Authority of Thailand welcomes plan if funds can be ring-fenced for tourism purposes

The proposal appeared also to get the tacit support of the governor of the tourism authority, Yuthasak Supasorn. He welcomed the proposal provided the money raised was ringfenced for developing and supporting the tourism sector.

‘As long as Thailand has a clear plan on how to use the fund effectively and benefit international tourists, it should not create any obstacles,’ he said.

Thailand’s tourism boss, whose organisation is renowned for its bullish promotion of the industry and ambitious targets, points out that under an amendment to the National Tourism Policy Act last year, there is now no legal impediment to taxing tourists.

He indicated that the proposal fitted well into a long term plan for the industry going forward.

Further reading:

Thailand could introduce tourist tax or levy next year as expert group begins to examine plans

Tourism minister predicts higher temperatures will help to bring an end to the coronavirus threat

Tourism minister gets real about tourism – arrivals down by 50%, pushes late night opening hours

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