Thailand finally ditches the long-delayed tourist levy. The PM orders universal insurance for all foreign tourists and visitors to Thailand. Will it revive confidence or will the proposal again descend into a quagmire of indecision?

The Thai cabinet on Tuesday finally shelved the long-running plan for a foreign tourism levy. Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, however, rejected a stop-gap measure to replace it. He ordered the introduction of automatic insurance cover for all foreign tourists to be provided through the Ministry of Tourism and Sports. How fast will this happen? We do not yet know. For the sake of Thailand’s tourism industry, let’s hope it is fast. The dithering on the issue must stop.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin ordered Minister of Tourism and Sports Sudawan Wang-Suphakitkosol, on Tuesday at cabinet, to have her ministry introduce automatic insurance cover for all incoming tourists. The cabinet also approved a separate plan for life insurance cover for foreign tourists, provided through the Office of the Insurance Commission.

In a significant move, the Thai government is to finally seek a comprehensive insurance plan for all incoming tourists. The proposal replaces the long-pending tourism levy.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, on Tuesday, directed the Ministry of Tourism and Sports to act. The plan provides for insurance coverage of ฿500,000 per person for injuries and ฿1 million in case of death due to an accident.

The insurance will be effective for all incoming foreign visitors. It will last for 30 days after they clear the Immigration Bureau screening at Thailand’s borders.

Universal tourist insurance provided directly through the Ministry of Tourism and Sports. Cabinet rejected stop-gap plan as tourism levy is shelved

Following growing concerns about safety and deteriorating confidence in Thailand as a tourist destination, the government is increasingly concerned. The proposed insurance plan aims to reassure tourists about their safety while travelling in the country.

The move comes after the cabinet formally decided to shelve the ฿300 tourism fee. 

Variously, the cabinet and the tourism ministry repeatedly postponed the measure over the last decade and a half.

The fee, proposed again formally in 2018, in conjunction with insurance coverage, faced administrative challenges. The latest suggestion was its collection through kiosks at airports or immigration counters.

PM adamant that universal insurance cover is required

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin emphasised the need to extend coverage to all tourists.

He instructed the Ministry of Tourism and Sports to work on a new plan for visitor protection. An initial proposal considered using a ฿50 million budget to compensate tourists on a case-by-case basis. However, after Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, the government now aims to provide broader coverage.

Tourism and Sports Minister Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol explained the shift, ‘As the government is shelving the ฿300 fee scheme during its administration to steady tourism sentiment, the ministry must seek a new plan to protect tourists.’

The proposed insurance plan will now be studied by the Tourism and Sports Ministry. 

Decision came after a horrifying tragedy where a Taiwanese tourist was turned away from a private hospital Emergency Ward in November. He later died

The announcement comes in the wake of a shocking incident where a private hospital turned away a Taiwanese tourist. He later died at another hospital.

Tragic death of a Taiwanese tourist is another wake-up call for the government on insurance cover

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, also on Tuesday, urged the Tourism and Sports Ministry to collaborate with the Royal Thai Police to raise the level of supervision by immigration and tourist police to ensure the safety of visitors.

Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, president of the Thai Hotels Association, welcomed the initiative to provide travel insurance for all foreign tourists. She said it would boost their confidence in travelling to Thailand. She emphasised the importance of clearly outlining compensation amounts based on different types of illnesses and injuries.

Tourism levy mooted by officials for over 15 years. Continuous postponements and dithering. This time it may be different as it focuses on insurance

The proposed insurance levy for tourists has been in discussion for over 15 years. More serious proposals linked with universal insurance coverage for tourists emerged in 2018. 

However, administrative challenges and industry opposition led to continuous postponements and dithering. The latest decision to sideline the tourism fee indicates a departure from the previous approach, with the government now focused solely on comprehensive insurance coverage. 

However, there is scepticism as there is still no concrete proposal for consideration, just an aspiration. As well as that, the plan may be too limited. It could still fail to address the problem. 

In recent decades, Thailand has faced challenges in managing its image as a tourist destination, with reports of accidents, injuries, and deaths impacting its standing. The proposed insurance plan aims to address safety concerns and provide financial coverage for tourists facing unforeseen circumstances.

The prospect of a levy for tourists was first mooted over 15 years ago by Thai officials.

Shift in 2018 when insurance was introduced into the plan. After this, the problem was administrative with doubts as to who should collect the entry fee

A serious proposal emerged in 2018. The Office of the Insurance Commission together with a leading university came forward with an innovative proposition. It involved 20% of the money collected going towards automatic insurance for foreign tourists. 

Tourist levy hits further turbulence with fears it could harm airline’s effort to boost flight numbers
Thailand could introduce a tourist tax or levy next year as an expert group begins to examine plans

The government, however, repeatedly postponed the levy. It came closest to being introduced in June last year. Then the ministry proposed it be collected by international airlines.

This resulted in blowback behind the scenes from the airline industry. The message to the government was the extra administrative work which would have been involved in collecting the fee. It was simply not on.

It would have involved preparing passenger lists at the point of departure to Thailand. After that, transmitting the data to the Ministry of Tourism and Sports in Bangkok. The ministry appears to have been determined to retain control over the income source. 

Additionally, there were some concerns, at times, that the levy would dampen visitor numbers. The ministry set a levy amount of ฿300 or less than $10 last year.

Proposal for airport kiosks only made in October

A recent proposal to collect the levy through kiosks at airports and directly at immigration countertops also floundered. The Ministry of Tourism and Sports floated that plan when the last postponement was announced in October.

Tourism fee fund to be fast-tracked after payouts to families in the Siam Paragon mass shooting

Minister of Tourism and Sports, Sudawan Wang-Suphakitkosol, on Tuesday, confirmed the decision. The cabinet shelved the tourist levy plan. 

The proposal, at any rate, generated widespread controversy as industry leaders sought clarification on where the extra funding would be used with the Tourism Authority of Thailand under former Governor Yuthasak Supasorn, insisting that it be targeted at infrastructure development for tourism. 

Danger in Thailand, a new and more visible problem in the internet age which saw tourism surge with cheap airfares and the internet before the pandemic

At length, the insurance issue began in the last few decades. Since the dawn of the internet age which coincided with lower air fares to Thailand, and then the birth of backpack tourism on a popular scale.

Persistent media reports tell of tourists either being killed, injured or facing serious medical emergencies in Thailand. Consequently, families and friends launch fundraising efforts.

The media coverage has been particularly damaging to Thailand’s image abroad.

Of course, this came before the pandemic disaster which disrupted the airline network and cheaper flights to the kingdom.

Cult book and movie The Beach launched a new image for Thailand. Took away the image of sex tourism for a younger more adventurous Western generation.

Thailand’s tourism image in international markets improved with the emergence of backpack tourism and memorable feature films such as Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Beach featuring the famous Maya Bay.

The 1996 cult novel became a sensational hit movie which catapulted Thailand into the minds of a new generation. It became a right of passage for young Western adults to visit Thailand.

Formerly, Thailand developed an international reputation as a sex tourism destination, one that has been difficult for the Thai government to dispel. 

Leonardo Di Caprio returns to Thailand and the beach on vacation with his stunning Italian girlfriend

Unfortunately, in the last two decades, the problem with insurance coverage for tourists has made news headlines instead. 

These focus on the dangers associated with the country, including its treacherous roads. The propensity for tourists, for instance, to have motorcycle accidents. The country has become associated with danger in the minds of Western audiences. 

Just a few stories of tourists who have become seriously ill while holidaying in Thailand. Story of an Irishman and an Englishman in Bangkok and Phuket

Recent news stories include the hospitalisation of an Irish tourist from Cork, James Burke. On his way to the airport in Bangkok, he contracted a severe illness, a dengue fever infection. This led his family to launch a ฿6.6 million or €176,000 online fundraising drive.

In the meantime, a private hospital in Bangkok billed the family €2,700 a day. It exhausted their savings.

Previously, a UK man from Southend on Sea, Dean Penson, struggling to pay his bill at a public hospital in Phuket, gained similar notoriety.

Irish man’s family turn to media when confronted with a ฿6.6 million medical bill to save tourist’s life
Another black eye for Thai tourism with sick UK man’s ‘horrific’ plight in Phuket exposed on world’s media

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin instructed the Minister of Tourism and Sports to proceed with plans to organise medical insurance cover for all incoming tourists. 

The Ministry of Tourism and Sports will organise the insurance coverage directly. The Office of the Insurance Commission will provide the life insurance cover. 

There is scepticism and potential problems. Coverage is too low, it should provide air ambulance services in very severe life-threatening cases

The problem, the limit on the proposed insurance is still only ฿500,000. Many observers suggest that this figure should be substantially higher. In view of the medical costs associated with some of the cases, perhaps ฿5 million would be adequate.

Another critical issue is the provision of an air ambulance. Many of the tourists wish to return to their own country when they become grievously ill. They frequently find themselves in a life-threatening situation which, of course, contributes to negative news drama.

This service is particularly expensive and can cost up to $100,000 at a time.

In any event, some sort of resolution to the issue would be an achievement by the government. After a decade and a half of talk, the proposal necessitates action. It is critical to underpinning and protecting Thailand’s vital foreign tourism industry.

The dithering on the issue, however, must stop.

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Further reading:

Irish man’s family turn to media when confronted with a ฿6.6 million medical bill to save tourist’s life

Tragic death of a Taiwanese tourist is another wake-up call for the government on insurance cover

66-year-old Thai woman highlights Thailand’s official tiered pricing in hospitals for foreigners

Another black eye for Thai tourism with sick UK man’s ‘horrific’ plight in Phuket exposed on world’s media

Tourist levy hits further turbulence with fears it could harm airline’s effort to boost flight numbers

Negative reaction and horror at Thailand’s plan to charge foreigners more than locals at hotels

Mass tourism to return again in 2021 with 10 million visitors targeted and full insurance cover with arrival levy

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

UK man stranded in Thailand facing a £100,000 medical bill 

Anutin: time to halt foreign tourism price deals, Thailand to be the Louis Vuitton of the world travel market

Battlefield friends help UK man and wife escape medical bill of £12k in Thailand. Now safely home