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Thailand defends its position on the new tourist tax

Thailand has moved to defend its position in the wake of the news that a tax on international visitors is being considered.

Earlier this week, TravelMail reported that a new levy on travellers entering the country from overseas could be introduced as early as January.
A fee of 500 baht is being mooted for passengers arriving by air and staying more than three days – with a far lower charge of 30 baht being applied to those coming into the country from a neighbouring state, and staying for two days or less.

The idea has sparked concern from holiday firms who fear it will discourage tourists from booking trips to a renowned sunspot that is famous for the beaches of Krabi and Phuket.

koh phangan 2But the Thailand Tourism Authority (TTA) says the tax – which has not been confirmed – is essential to cover the cost of visitors who leave the country without paying medical bills.

“A ‘tourist tax’ is one of several ideas that the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Tourism & Sport are considering,” says Joanna Cooke, UK spokesperson for the Thailand Tourism Authority.

“Unpaid medical bills, left by visitors staying in Thailand without correct travel insurance, are putting a strain on Thai hospitals. The Thai government currently absorbs this cost at circa 200 million baht [£4million] per year.

“As a result, the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Tourism & Sport are considering and discussing several options for how best to settle this.”

However, the TTA also admits that the charge is part of a wider attempt to attract a ‘high’ class of tourist to the country.

“The idea of such a ‘tourist tax’ also forms part of the Ministry of Tourism & Sports’ objectives to target ‘quality’ tourists,” Joanna Cooke continues.

koh phangan“In 2012, Thailand welcomed over 22 million tourists worldwide, with growth set to continue in 2013-14 – so the focus is on maintaining [the level of] quality tourists visiting Thailand and encouraging more high-spending, long-stay visitors.”
The news has caused worried responses from the travel industry in the UK.

Derek Moore of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO), argues that this is a case of a government seeing tourists as “an easy target”.

“If introduced as early as January, this would not only penalise would-be tourists , but it would be hard for tour operators which spend money promoting Thailand – only to find that they have to absorb the £10 [tax] rather than pass it on [to the customer] because of the short lead-in time,” he told Travel Weekly.

“This would be a double whammy for operators.

“Imposing such a tax is cavalier, and shows a lack of understanding in tourism.

“It almost reminds me of the behaviour of the British government over Air Passenger Duty, which sees a tax on travel as fair game.”

This stance is echoed by companies which will be impacted if the charge is installed.

“There is no doubt the introduction of any such tourist tax does not come without criticism,” Glenn McCool of Hayes and Jarvis – which offers beach breaks to Thailand – informed Travel Weekly.

“It would only be a negative message for the destination.”

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