Tourism minister opposes scrapping visa-on-arrivals

Tourism minister opposes scrapping visa-on-arrivals

Fears over damage to reputation in China

Chinese tourists arrive at Suvarnabhumi airport. The private sector is against ditching visas-on-arrival for Chinese visitors, fearing a public relations backlash. (Government House photo)
Chinese tourists arrive at Suvarnabhumi airport. The private sector is against ditching visas-on-arrival for Chinese visitors, fearing a public relations backlash. (Government House photo)

Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn says the government should not scrap visas-on-arrival (VOAs) for Chinese travellers despite the public health minister insisting on a suspension.

Anutin Charnvirakul, the public health minister and Bhumjaithai Party leader, has said the state should scrap VOAs for Chinese travellers because the Chinese government has already banned outbound tours. A temporary suspension is in line with the Chinese government's policy.

But many in the private sector disagree with the proposal, saying Chinese tourists are already declining because of cancellations. Scrapping VOAs could hurt tourism relations.

In China, negative comments are spreading on social media as users voice displeasure at some countries banning visas for Chinese travellers.

Mr Phiphat said recent cabinet meetings have looked into VOA issues but have not decided on any formal resolution.

He said the number of Chinese tourists in Thailand this month is 40% lower than in the same month a year earlier. An 80-90% drop could be expected in the next two months as the Chinese government takes steps to curb travel.

"I believe the Chinese government will clearly address the coronavirus outbreak by April," Mr Phiphat said.

If the virus can be contained by then, the government may consider extending VOAs for Chinese tourists, he said.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is considering new measures to draw tourists in the region to visit Thailand, as well as promoting domestic travel among Thais.

Thailand has 14 infected people, all of whom contracted the virus overseas, Mr Phiphat said.

Six of them have recovered and no human-to-human transmission has been recorded in the country, he said.

Mr Phiphat was speaking at a press event on cooperation between the ministry and CAT Telecom to usher in a big data platform for tourists, athletes and other related industries.

TAT governor Yuthasak Supasorn said the government should consider the consequences of the VOA issue carefully, as the news is already being slammed on Chinese social media even though it exists only as a proposal.

Other countries that suspended VOAs for Chinese have seen a backlash on social media.

"Some discontented travellers may throw a tantrum against Thailand, as happened during the Phuket boat accident in which a lot of Chinese died," Mr Yuthasak said.

He said that with the Chinese government's ban on group travel, Thailand saw flights from China drop by 80%. Therefore a suspension may not be necessary, and it would still create ill feelings among Chinese citizens.

If the VOA suspension is submitted to the cabinet, he expects many agencies to oppose the idea.

At the extraordinary general meeting of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta) yesterday, president Vichit Prakobgosol said travel has already been curtailed by the order of the Chinese government.

Atta members reported that incoming groups totalled fewer than 100 people a day, a sharp decline from the usual 30,000.

He said that one week from now the movement of travellers is likely to stabilise because there will be no new tourists and those already here will end their excursion during Feb 3-5.

"The priority is to look after the groups who are still in Thailand, and spread a positive message to international tourists rather than causing any negative sentiment," Mr Vichit told members.

Supawan Tanomkieatipume, president of the Thai Hotels Association, said arrivals from China are decreasing daily and the situation will not improve soon.

Independent travellers have cancelled bookings, so regardless of the government's decision on VOA, the results will not change, Mr Supawan said.

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