Permanent visa exemption for Kazakhs near

Permanent visa exemption for Kazakhs near

Arrivals rising steadily since pilot project began, with Kazakh airlines ready to add more flights

Thai officials including Deputy Foreign Minister Jakkapong Sangmanee and Tourism and Sports Minister Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol meet with senior executives of Air Astana on Friday to discuss the tourism industry and promoting air travel between Thailand and Kazakhstan. (Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Thai officials including Deputy Foreign Minister Jakkapong Sangmanee and Tourism and Sports Minister Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol meet with senior executives of Air Astana on Friday to discuss the tourism industry and promoting air travel between Thailand and Kazakhstan. (Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

A permanent visa exemption for Kazakh visitors to Thailand is expected to be announced by April, while Air Astana, Kazakhstan’s flag carrier, is planning to increase flights during the hot season to cater to growing demand.

The government this week announced an extension to the temporary visa-free scheme for Kazakh tourists until August. Discussions regarding a permanent exemption are continuing, with an agreement expected in April during an official visit by Kazakhstan’s foreign minister to Thailand, said Deputy Foreign Minister Jakkapong Sangmanee, who visited Kazakhstan this week.

Thai passport holders have benefited from a visa exemption since 2019, allowing them to remain in Kazakhstan for up to 30 days.

Tourism and Sports Minister Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol said discussions between the ministry, Mr Jakkapong and executives from Air Astana resulted in the airline announcing it would ramp up flight frequencies to Thailand during the low season.

“Our visa policy commitment enables the private sector in Kazakhstan, such as airlines, to plan their business strategy,” said Ms Sudawan. “The extended visa-free scheme should stimulate demand during the low season, filling the gap for Thai tourism operators.”

She said the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) plans to invite foreign airlines on April 30 to inspect the potential of airports other than Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang and Phuket to help absorb some of the heavy air traffic from the country’s three major entry points.

Air Astana has been encouraged to consider flying directly to Krabi as well as Phuket, which is a popular destination among Kazakhs.

The number of tourists from Kazakhstan totalled 59,468 in 2022, then rose to 172,282 last year. Kazakh visitors spent an average of 7,653 baht per day last year, or 75,080 baht per trip during their visit, which typically exceeded 10 days.

The TAT predicts visitors from Kazakhstan to reach 220,000 this year.

Siripakorn Cheawsamoot, the TAT deputy governor for Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas, elaborated on the plans for Kazakh tourism at a “Friends of Thailand Networking Day” on Friday in Almaty. 

During the current high season, he said, Air Astana has been operating 18 flights per week: 11 direct flights from Almaty to Phuket using wide-body Boeing 767s, and seven flights from Almaty to Bangkok using Airbus A321 Neos.

Sunday Airlines, a charter airline in Kazakhstan, operates flights to Phuket from four cities: Almaty, Astana, Taraz and Shymkent.

Kamila Sadyrbakiyeva, senior sales manager at Air Astana, said the average load factor for direct flights to Thailand was very high and has risen further since the Thai government launched the visa exemption scheme on Sept 25 last year.

As a result, she said, the airline plans to increase flights to Phuket during the low season from three a week to six. Flights to Bangkok will remain at three per week.

She said the growth potential during Thailand’s low season remains huge, as Kazakhstan’s winter is very long, especially in the northern part of the country. Thailand is attractive because of its moderate cost, comparable with other popular destinations for Kazakh travellers, such as Turkey, Dubai and Montenegro, said Ms Sadyrbakiyeva.

Air Astana does not have direct flights to other destinations in Southeast Asia as it wants to focus on increasing frequency to destinations in Thailand, she said.

“For Krabi, we’re working with tour operators in Kazakhstan. If there are requests from the market, we’ll be able to fly to this province,” she said.

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