Agency jittery over visa loophole

Agency jittery over visa loophole

Exemption could be open to abuse

Visitors walk along the walls of the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo, which are among the capital’s top tourist attractions, on Monday. (Photo: Apichart Jinakul)
Visitors walk along the walls of the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo, which are among the capital’s top tourist attractions, on Monday. (Photo: Apichart Jinakul)

The Tourism Department is worried the visa exemption for Chinese visitors will create a loophole for "zero-dollar" tours and illegal tour guides as the authorities will not be able to verify legally licensed tour companies.

Jaturon Phakdeewanit, director-general of the department, said the agency already raised the issue with Tourism and Sports Minister Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol last week after the cabinet approved the visa-free scheme for Chinese and Kazakh tourists from Sept 25 to Feb 29, 2024.

Earlier this month, the Tourism Department, the Consular Affairs Department and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to develop a system to synchronise inbound tourist data amongst themselves.

The agreement allows Consular Affairs to approve visas faster for Chinese tour groups as the list of legal inbound tour companies and job orders including tour itineraries were available in the Tourism Department's system for security purposes.

More than 300 inbound companies partner with Chinese outbound companies and are listed with the Tourism Department. However, during the visa exemption period this collaborative system will be temporarily halted because there is no need to verify tour companies for visas, said Mr Jaturon.

To help tighten security measures, the department and the Provincial Tourism and Sports Office plan to implement random inspections of tour groups at major tourism destinations, as they are still required to submit a job order.

"We will check if they are a legal tour company, hiring legal tour guides and implementing a tourism programme as reported in their job orders," he said.

"Instead of screening tourists before entering, we can inspect them while travelling in Thailand."

Mr Jaturon said the department and related authorities will continue to track and take action against illegal foreign tour guides, using the Tourism Business and Guide Act as a guideline.

Only Thai nationals can serve as tour guides. If found guilty, the authorities can expel illegal foreign tour guides, according to the Immigration Act.

Within the first 100 days of the new administration, the Tourism Department aims to sign another MoU with five organisations to eliminate nominee tour businesses, he said.

These five organisations comprise the Office of the Permanent Secretary of the Tourism Ministry, the Tourist Police, the Department of Business Development, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) and the Immigration Bureau.

The DSI, for instance, will have the authority to investigate tour companies' financial transactions if their revenue goes to foreigners instead of the Thai owners.

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