The proposals from the meeting which ranged from declaring Thailand mask-free outdoors to eliminating temperature checks on arrival, come as the kingdom’s foreign tourism numbers appear to be climbing with some industry insiders suggesting the tourism authority’s target of 8 million visitors this year may be surpassed and a figure of up to 15 million seen by the end of 2022. However, a fly in the ointment may still be the proposed retention of a requirement to show the health status of arrivals and medical cover which will still leave the kingdom at a disadvantage to its competitors and would probably lead to more difficulties than retaining the Thailand Pass application.
On Friday, the Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Yuthasak Supasorn appeared to endorse a range of proposals including the extension of the visa on arrival concession to all countries, a waiver of all visa fees for 6 months from July 1st and an extension of the stay on tourist visas for incoming travellers, from 30 to 45 days. The meeting also endorsed an earlier call from the Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn for the abolition of the Thailand Pass application although it appeared to accept the need still for tourists to show proof of vaccination or health status before entering the kingdom and to have confirmed medical health insurance. The proposal to grant a visa free for all is, however, bound to face scrutiny from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which in August 2019 opposed a similar move for both India and China at cabinet which ultimately saw it scrapped and replaced with visa fee waivers.
Thai tourism industry representatives, at a meeting on Friday, hosted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Governor Yuthasak Supasorn, agreed on a range of proposals which are expected to be put before up to four key government committees in the coming week including the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) chaired by Prayut Chan ocha on June 17th next.
The proposals call for an extension of the visa on arrival concession to all countries worldwide from July 1st next to boost foreign tourism numbers into the last half of the year.
Foreign tourism critical to this year’s recovery of the economy and efforts to gain back lost ground
It comes as the foreign tourism industry, always critical to Thailand’s economic prospects, has never before taken on such significance as the kingdom’s struggles to rejuvenate a faltering economic recovery which has seen export growth hampered in the second quarter of the year with rampant inflation.
Thailand’s economy only grew by 1.6% last year and is facing challenges in the second quarter of this year with fears of a contraction.
Even if the projected growth in 2022 of 3% is achieved this year the kingdom’s economy will find itself well behind its output level in 2019 with growing concern that the country’s economy, still the second-largest in Southeast Asia, is falling behind its peers.
In 2019, Deputy PM and Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai led opposition at cabinet level to visa on arrival status for Indian and Chinese tourists
Currently, there are only 56 countries which enjoy the visa on arrival concession and the proposal, although overwhelmingly welcomed at Friday’s meeting of 100 representatives of the tourism sector, will be carefully scrutinised by officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and later at cabinet level.
In August 2019, Deputy Prime Minister Don Pramudwinai led opposition within the cabinet to such a proposal in respect of foreign tourists from India and China when it came before ministers.
It was torpedoed after concerns were expressed related to the kingdom’s security.
At the time, the information presented to the cabinet and obtained through the Thai Embassy in New Delhi had highlighted a pattern of false submissions and documents being submitted by potential applicants for visas to visit Thailand.
It was agreed that to grant a more open dispensation, at that time, would have led to an influx of undesirables.
Wider package of concessions to go all-in to boost foreign tourist numbers in the second half of 2022
On Friday, the proposal and a wider package of concessions for prospective foreign tourists was strongly supported by the President of the Phuket Tourist Association and a key architect of last year’s Phuket Sandbox initiative, Bhummikitti Ruktaengam who described it as not just one that will boost the country’s economic recovery from within the tourism sector but also as a matter of equality and fairness.
‘All tourists should have been treated on an equal basis. If possible, we should also provide a fee waiver for multiple entry to allow them to visit neighbouring countries during the same trip,’ he said.
Mr Bhummikitti was referring to another proposal that came out of Friday’s meeting which was to alter the status of visas issued to foreign tourists on arrival to multiple entry types allowing visitors to enter the neighbouring countries of Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Laos who may later return so that Thailand can become a base for foreign arrivals who wish to have an extended stay and travel within Southeast Asia.
Proposed package to go before panels before it is finalised on June 17th next for approval by cabinet
The meeting of tourist industry chiefs also saw a proposal agreed upon and to be presented to key government committees such as the Ministry of Public Health, the Centre for Economic Situation Administration, the Ministry of Tourism and Sports and the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) over the coming days before the key meeting chaired by the Prime Minister on June 17th.
This includes a plan to extend the visa period granted to visitors from visa-on-arrival countries from 30 to 45 days.
Governor Yuthasak explained that the thinking behind that was that the average spend per foreign tourist, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), has risen from under ฿50,000 in 2019 to ฿77,000 in this current season.
At the same time, there is also a call to abolish all visa fees for incoming tourists from July 1st next to make the country more attractive to prospective visitors.
Incoming foreign tourist arrivals to still provide health status certificates and proof of medical cover
Significantly, although the meeting on Friday also called for the abolition of the Thailand Pass regime, already proposed last week by Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, from July 1st, there was an acceptance that foreign arrivals will still need to show evidence of vaccination and a certificate showing medical health cover for $10,000.
Most of the participants at the meeting agreed that the Thailand Pass application had improved in recent weeks since it became an instantaneous process.
It is difficult to see how the verification of vaccinated status and compliance with insurance requirements can be achieved without the Thailand Pass application without causing increased congestion at airports as numbers are set to rise significantly.
Proposal to hand screening of passenger’s health status back to airlines may not be workable by July 1st
One proposal advanced at the meeting was for this process to be handed back to airlines before they allow passengers to board flights to Thailand, a way forward that also poses problems similar to what we have seen linked with an identical suggestion for the collection of the proposed foreign tourism levy.
This comes as a plan to introduce the foreign tourist levy in Thailand this summer has been shelved again.
This would have seen a ฿300 levy provide automatic insurance cover and has again been postponed, this time over difficulties involved in collecting the levy and new concerns raised by the tourism minister about the fee itself.
Earlier this year, a government proposal to require airlines to collect the charge met a lukewarm reaction with reports that some airlines were concerned at the complexity of the process and the potential to make the screening of passengers more expensive as the industry is still in recovery mode.
It is also clear that any plan for airlines to now check health certificates would require planning and preparatory work given the problems that have arisen over the proposed tourism levy.
It is certainly highly unlikely that such a scheme could be in place by July 1st.
Tourism levy postponed, this time until the end of the year after an issue arose over short-term stays
This week, Minister Phiphat withdrew a proposal related to the tourism levy which was to be put before the cabinet. He said the fee would now be put off until the last quarter of 2022.
This levy has now been postponed innumerable times since the proposal, which is supported by a majority of foreign tourists due to the automatic insurance cover offered, was first announced in May 2019.
An earlier proposal floated by a previous government was eventually shelved.
Mr Phiphat said he was also looking at reducing the fee charge as it appears that many of those arriving in Thailand were only staying for 1 to 2 nights and the proposed levy would therefore not be proportionate.
Tourism leaders strongly support calls from nightlife sector for longer opening hours and more freedom
Significantly, the meeting on Friday also strongly endorsed calls from the nightlife industry to have the country revert to opening hours which existed before the pandemic.
This comes as the leadership of the nightlife trade, particularly in Bangkok, is pushing for even further concessions from the government including the abolition of the 2 pm to 5 pm ban on alcohol sales and later opening hours that existed before the industry was forced to shut down for two years and even beyond that, to assist with a stronger recovery.
Nightlife trade critical of the government’s reopening measures and restrictions imposed on the industry
It comes as the industry has criticised current opening hours and the need for staff to wear face masks among other things.
Calls for Thailand to be mask free outdoors
At Friday’s meeting, there was a unanimous call to declare Thailand a mask-free country outdoors with face masks only being advised in crowded or confined places.
Industry representatives called for businesses to be free to make their own decisions concerning the need for staff to wear face masks.
In addition, there were calls for the abolition of temperature testing and screening of incoming travellers at airports as this was not effective at detecting the disease.
The meeting called on the government to make it easier for as many prospective foreign tourists as possible to visit Thailand without too much planning and with a minimum of red tape and costs.
Numbers for foreign tourist arrival are strongly ticking upwards with some industry insiders saying 15 million arrivals could be achieved this year
Thailand saw 1.1 million foreign tourists to May 19th with forward bookings for June, at that point, already reaching 1 million arrivals with 2.75 million potential travellers within the Thailand Pass system.
This would leave the kingdom well on course to achieve the 8 million visitors this year, or 20% of the number seen in 2019 according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).
It is thought among industry sources such as the Tourism Council of Thailand, that this figure could even go higher towards 15 million visitors if obstacles such as Thailand Pass and other certification requirements are completely removed by July 1st.
This will be decided at the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) meeting on June 17th and later by the cabinet.
Tourism boost could add 2% to GDP growth
The additional tourism numbers and the income that they generate could account for an extra 2% added to the country’s GDP with current projections from the Bank of Thailand, based on 5 to 10 million foreign tourists this year, showing a 3.3% growth rate.
At Friday’s meeting of tourism industry representatives, the proposal to waive visa fees and to extend the visa period for visa-on-arrival travellers from 30 to 45 days was strongly endorsed by Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, the President of the Thai Hotels Association.
‘We totally agree with the proposal to waive the visa fee for those who must apply for a visa, in addition to extending the length of stay for both visa-free countries and the VOA,’ Ms Marisa declared. ‘The longer they stay, the more they can spend more locally.’