Tourism operators in Songkhla have called for the suspension of the TM6 immigration forms at another border checkpoint and the removal of extra-time service fees as the process is still hindering the flow of Malaysian tourists.
The cabinet this week approved the cancellation of TM6 forms from Nov 1, 2023 to April 30, 2024 at the Sadao immigration checkpoint in Songkhla.
As of Oct 22, Malaysian arrivals tallied 3.54 million, overtaking the Chinese at 2.7 million. The Tourism Authority of Thailand expects the Malaysian market to exceed the 4.2 million arrivals recorded in 2019.
Songchai Mungprasithichai, president of the Songkhla Tourism Promotion Association, said the Sadao checkpoint had more than 500-600 entrants per hour during holidays, causing tourists to be stuck at borders for an hour.
He said the suspension would facilitate tourist flows, but would also draw other tourists who normally enter through other checkpoints, causing more gridlock.
To relieve congestion at certain checkpoints, the government should also cancel the forms at the second-largest checkpoint, Padang Besar, which is located 10 kilometres from the Sadao checkpoint, said Mr Songchai.
Another two gateways, Betong in Yala and Wang Prachan in Satun, should also be exempted from collection of the forms as they typically draw Malaysian tourists and can help absorb the flow in Songkhla, he said.
Mr Songchai said another hurdle for tourists travelling via land borders is fee collection for extra-time service between 5-9am, noon to 1pm, and 4.30-11pm.
Tourists are required to pay 20 baht per person, while tour buses have to pay 500 baht per bus.
He said even with the TM6 exemption, tourists still face long queues to pay this fee if they enter outside official working hours.
Mr Songchai said tourism operators in the South also want the government to remove restrictions on Malaysian tour buses, which are now limited to travel within Songkhla.
He said this restriction was initiated in 2014, which caused tourism operators to lose 50,000-60,000 visitors per month as large numbers of Malaysian tourists wanted to visit other provinces to join annual events, especially at the Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan in Nakhon Si Thammarat.
They also wanted to travel to seaside provinces such as Phuket, Krabi and Surat Thani, said Mr Songchai.
"There are around 30 tourism operators in Songkhla that can adapt by arranging direct flights to those provinces, but we should think about small businesses along the roads that would lose revenue if tourists take a shortcut to destinations, instead of taking tour buses as they have the last decade," he said.