Unwelcome rebirth of zero-dollar tours
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Unwelcome rebirth of zero-dollar tours

Group points finger at foreigners

A group of tourists take a tour opposite Wat Arun in Bangkok at the new Tha Tien Pier. (Photo: Nutthawat Wichieanbut)
A group of tourists take a tour opposite Wat Arun in Bangkok at the new Tha Tien Pier. (Photo: Nutthawat Wichieanbut)

The scourge of zero-dollar tours has returned with even lower prices, targeting inbound tourists from China, Russia and India.

This trend has begun to ravage the tourism industry because of the poor quality of the tours, leaving licensed Thai operators unable to compete, said Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta).

Mr Sisdivachr said recently more groups of foreigners are operating tour companies in Thailand, using nominees to shield their illegal activities.

He said these illegal operators slash the prices of their tour packages to unreasonable levels based on operational costs, or offer tour packages without any tour fares.

To compensate for the losses, buyers of such packages are forced to purchase additional services or products at exorbitant prices from specific shops purposely set up to milk tourists, said Mr Sisdivachr.

He said these practices were common among the inbound Chinese market in the past, but now illegal operators are targeting Russian and Indian markets using the same tactics.

"This is the worst operating environment I've encountered in my entire life working in the tour business," said Mr Sisdivachr, who discussed the issue with Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin at a meeting at Government House last week.

He said the price dumping strategy is meant to secure an overwhelming market share, eliminating competitors to monopolise the market and arbitrarily increase prices in the future.

This strategy is different from extra-cheap deals known as pro fai mai (burning hot promotion), which is considered an acceptable marketing tool to help tour operators fill up vacant spots at short notice.

Mr Sisdivachr said the zero-dollar tours are damaging the image of Thai tourism, portraying the country as a cheap and unsafe place for tourists as visitors are physically or verbally coerced into purchasing items they don't want.

The strategy will generate less income for the local economy as the illegal operators avoid taxes and do not use local products and services, he said.

Mr Sisdivachr said the government, private sector and Chinese officials should work together to fix this issue within one year.

"The longer this kind of business persists, the worse the Thai tourism industry will become," he said.

Many Thai operators with licences have adapted their business to serve only incentive groups or leisure tourists, rather than looking only for volume, said Mr Sisdivachr.

Arresting one or two illegal tour operators will not be enough, he said.

The relevant authorities should dissolve the whole network, as each operator normally branches out to at least four or five businesses, said Mr Sisdivachr.

He said Atta, as part of the Federation of Thai Tourism Associations, is hoping to meet with Tourism and Sports Minister Sermsak Pongpanit shortly to discuss the matter.

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