Zero-dollar tour agents targeted

Zero-dollar tour agents targeted

Focus on Thais working for Chinese companies

Chinese tourists visit the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok. The Tourism and Sports Ministry will attempt to suppress zerodollar tours, where Chinese tour groups sell cheap or all-inclusive packages to Thailand. PATIPAT JANTHONG
Chinese tourists visit the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok. The Tourism and Sports Ministry will attempt to suppress zerodollar tours, where Chinese tour groups sell cheap or all-inclusive packages to Thailand. PATIPAT JANTHONG

The Tourism and Sports Ministry is stepping up its efforts to crack down on Thai proxy agents working with Chinese tour companies selling zero-dollar packages.

This move is aimed at reducing the impact of these package deals, which are either very cheap or require tourists to pay nothing for trips to Thailand. But agents pressure Chinese tourists into buying overpriced goods and services once they arrive, leading to several complaints.

Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul admitted it was difficult to enforce a crackdown on zero-dollar tours because it is a Chinese-style service and packages exist to several countries. 

The problem remains even though the Chinese government imposed a policy to regulate outbound zero-dollar tours in late 2013. The Thai ministry will, therefore, focus on Thai proxies helping Chinese tour companies handle tourists here.

"We will cooperate with the Revenue Department to check tax payments by these Thai agents because most of them are not legally registered," said Ms Kobkarn.

The tax payment check is meant to ensure tourism income stays in the country rather than transferring to China. 

The ministry also plans to work closely with the Tourism Department to tighten the rules on tour company registration.

Thailand now relies heavily on Chinese tourists to meet its tourism revenue target of 2.2 trillion baht in 2015 and 2.3 trillion in 2016. During the first half of this year, Chinese arrivals rose by 111% to 4 million, generating tourism income of 190.91 billion baht, up 138.9% year-on-year.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand expects to welcome 7.4 million Chinese tourists in 2015 and 8 million in 2016.

The boom of Chinese visitors has prompted Chinese tour agents to open companies here through proxy agents. The Chinese companies can earn income from both countries through their Thai agents.

The Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA) said tour companies in Bangkok are not selling packages to new destinations because they are pressured by two big souvenir outlets.

Midsized and small tour operators accept commissions from the souvenir shops and sell expensive optional tours. The souvenir shop owners rent coaches from tour firms at the low price of 1,000 baht per day for the whole week. The normal rent for a coach is 5,000 baht a day.

The shop owners pay a commission of 30-40% to tour agents based on souvenir sales from clients they brought to their shops.

"Tour agents bear a high cost from kickbacks, accommodation and food, becoming dependent on the commissions from souvenir shops and expensive optional tours," said ATTA vice-president Surawat Akaraworamat.

Tourists can even be forced to buy optional tours or face abandonment after they are taken outside city limits. Tour firms that illegally use Chinese guides use this tactic.

Most tour operators want to sell quality package tours but commissions make them dependent, he said.


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