Holidays to South Korea have been thrown into upheaval after 67 Thai tourists filed complaints with the Tourism Department, urging tour operators to provide them with refunds of 1.4 million baht in total after entry into the country was denied.
Jaturon Phakdeewanit, deputy director-general of the Tourism Department, said the complaints were under investigation. Only two holidaymakers purchased their tours directly from a big wholesale company, while the remainder made transactions with 15 retail companies.
The initial investigation indicated that three of the companies were unlicensed companies, while one tour firm did not appear in any type of business registration.
After receiving complaints between Aug 5-17, the department found that most of the tourists said they did not receive a refund of their tour package despite not being able to make the trip due to denial of entry, or the tour companies confiscated a 10,000-baht deposit which was meant to be a guarantee that the tourists would not seek to work illegally on their arrival.
Next week the department will meet the tour operators and ask them to declare their actual operational costs in order to return fares to customers.
Mr Jaturon said the tour companies must be responsible for a refund after deducting all necessary costs.
However, if there are additional expenditures resulting from the alteration of flights, or tour companies had to allocate new return flights after being denied entry at immigration, operators can deduct the airfare from the package before refunding the customers.
Mr Jaturon said that the cost of the return flights, which must be arranged immediately, would usually be more expensive than advance bookings.
For instance, if the incident happened on Jeju Island, tour companies have to charter a plane to carry passengers back if there are insufficient seats available on scheduled flights.
"We believe that all companies will follow the rules and compensate tourists because any wrongdoings would cause them difficulties in extending their licence or being blacklisted by the department so they could not continue the business in the long run," said Mr Jaturon.
However, the department accepted that it is difficult to track down tour companies which deliberately accompany illegal workers abroad by putting them in regular tour groups, as most of them are unregistered businesses.
The department will focus on investigating those unlicensed companies first to see if there are any irregularities in their businesses, and will work with the Labour Ministry to solve the problem.
At present, there are 3,486 outbound tour companies which are registered with the department.
As part of its pandemic relief measures, the Tourism Department reduced the size of the registered deposit by 70% from the full cost of 200,000 baht.
Charoen Wangananont, president of the Thai Travel Agents Association, said outbound package sales to South Korea had dropped dramatically over the past week after more tourists were unable to receive refunds from tour companies.
Some tourists also want to refrain from taking trips for a while as they are worried about being refused entry and losing money.
Mr Charoen said the wholesale company that is under investigation is operating very cheap package tours, which resemble the notorious zero-dollar tours offered to Chinese tourists in recent years.