Plans this year to have airlines collect the proposed ฿300 levy ran into difficulty while industry leaders are anxious to see the proposal for emergency tourist medical insurance coverage implemented with ongoing horror stories from across the country’s tourist hotspots of injured foreign visitors seeking help with unpaid medical bills damaging the country’s reputation as a tourist destination abroad. The new levy scheme will plough 17% of the income received into an insurance fund for all visitors extending medical health coverage for up to 30 days from arrival with a cap of ฿500,000.
A leading tourist industry chief has called for the government to establish a separate state agency to manage the country’s proposed foreign tourism levy which has been postponed yet again by the Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn until after a new government is formed. Mr Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, the Chairman of the Phuket Tourist Association, also expressed concern that the collection of the levy should not be imposed on airline carriers while it should also be collected at both land and sea points of entry into the kingdom. The new tourism levy, according to the minister and key officials, will pay for automatic emergency health coverage for foreign tourists who get into trouble in Thailand but the industry itself is perplexed by concern about the ongoing delay in the introduction of the charge and transparency around how the money raised is used in what could turn out to be a vast annual sum collected by the government as tourist numbers rise.
At the end of April, the Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn announced that the new incoming tourist tax of ฿300 per head which had been due to come into effect on June 23rd next was to be postponed until the next government is sworn in.
A key part of this proposal was the introduction of automatic insurance to cover the estimated ฿300 million to ฿400 million in annual bills run up by foreign tourists in Thai hospitals according to figures up to 2019.
The development comes amid news that the kingdom’s Revenue Department is now proceeding with plans for a far higher ฿1,000 additional outgoing charge on departures from Thailand to be applied to both tourists and Thai nationals alike, a proposal which is causing severe reverberations within the industry.
Fundraising appeals for visitors without funds to pay for hospital bills are simply bad news for Thailand and its extremely lucrative foreign tourism industry
A significant proportion of this expenditure is linked to accidents and unforeseen medical exigencies in Thailand which cause emergency appeals from family members at home as many foreign tourists do not have adequate accident and emergency health coverage while travelling in Thailand.
The perception of this in many developed Western countries where there is free public healthcare is damaging to Thailand when public fundraising appeals are launched which tend to attract publicity by their nature.
Tourist levy hits further turbulence with fears it could harm airline’s efforts to boost flight numbers
These appeals severely damage Thailand’s image as a tourist destination abroad and industry leaders have long welcomed the proposal for automatic insurance of somewhere between ฿35 to ฿55 will be taken from the new fee which could generate between ฿7 billion and ฿11 billion for the country per annum if properly implemented with the bulk of these monies going to resources and infrastructural development for the country’s critical foreign tourism industry while protecting its image.
Industry not clear yet on how the levy should be collected but say the funds must be used productively
In April, Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi of the Thai Hotels Association came out to support the levy although she appeared not yet clear on how it would be collected.
A plan to use the international flight networks and airlines was in the pipeline up to last month but had repeatedly run into difficulties while Ms Marisa warned that using hotels would give an unfair advantage to unlicensed operators in the kingdom
She was clear that the monies from the scheme must be transparently accounted for so that the revenues were applied productively rather than simply subsidising existing government budgets.
The tourism industry leader saw the move as a potential plus for the industry as it would remove one key concern that exists about Thailand for potential travellers and help boost the country’s foreign tourism sector which is not predicted to recover to 2019 levels until, at the earliest, 2025, after the extended and sudden closure of the country in 2020.
Minster says 17% of levy or ฿51 to go to the insurance fund for incoming tourists, Phuket industry chief calls for a new state agency to manage the levy
Minister of Tourism and Sports Mr Phiphat in April said that 17% of the new levy would now go to the new tourist insurance fund while 60% to 70% of the balance would be applied under the provisions of the 2009 National Tourism Policy Act to the tourism fund.
Earlier reports suggested a figure of ฿34.
The decision to postpone the collection of the levy was noted by the Chairman of the Phuket Tourist Association Mr Bhummikitti Ruktaengam who proposed that a central organisation be set up in the kingdom to collect the levy and cautioned the government against imposing on the airline industry as reported.
He also asked that the levy be applied uniformly to visitors by land and sea.
Insurance cover to be capped at ฿500,000
Mr Bhummikitti pointed out that in Phuket alone each year foreign tourists leave behind ฿10 million in unpaid hospital bills and fees.
The proposed insurance cover is however capped at ฿500,000 and will be in place for visitors when they enter the kingdom for 30 days from their arrival in Thailand.
The scale of the fees raised would be substantial and could well eventually fund both the Ministry of Tourism and Sports and Thailand’s Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) combined.
Both bodies in 2023 had a combined budget of ฿8.6 billion which is why there are concerns in the foreign tourism sector that the monies should be ring-fenced and the tourism insurance coverage prioritised to benefit the industry’s perception abroad.
An exit charge of ฿700 is already collected
There are also calls for the proposed insurance coverage to include emergency repatriation to home countries for tourists in need of medical attention and where appropriate.
The present insurance coverage only provides for the repatriation of the remains of tourists who die in Thailand.
The fee is in addition to the ฿700 still applied to all visitors on departure from the kingdom at the country’s international airports.