Fee waiver not the answer
The Prayut Chan-o-cha cabinet appears to have made the right decision in turning down a visa fee waiver proposal for Chinese and Indian travellers suggested by the Tourism and Sports Ministry. But the decision will ultimately have no effect, as at the same time, the government announced it will continue to allow Chinese and Indian travellers -- and citizens of 16 other countries -- to get their visas on arrival, free of charge. This is a strange irony.
According to government spokesperson Narumon Pinyosinwat, the cabinet rejected the visa fee waiver proposal due to various concerns, including security, overstretched resources, waste management challenges and the lack of infrastructure to cope with a substantial increase in visitor numbers.
While the rejection of the proposal may give the impression that the government thoroughly recognises the root causes of the problems, the extension of the free visa-on-arrival scheme for tourists from India and China -- albeit only for another six months -- suggests otherwise.
Besides, the government's decision creates two contradictory outcomes. Chinese and Indian nationals who apply for visas at embassies and/or consulates in the China and India ahead of their trip will still be required to pay the fees; while those who seek visas on arrival at Thai airports will be treated with courtesy. This is a peculiar duality.
State agencies have been in a visa tug-of-war over the past few years. On the one hand, the Tourism Ministry and the Tourism Authority of Thailand, are determined to meet their tourist number targets. The TAT aims to increase tourist arrivals to 40 million from last year's 38 million. But there are signs that indicate that the target may be tough to achieve, especially given the fact that visitor numbers have slowed over the past seven months, with less than a 1% increase in arrivals each month. This forced tourism authorities to press harder for the visa fee waiver for Chinese and Indian travellers. The government's decision to extend the free visa-on-arrival scheme is aimed at enabling tourism operators to cash in on two major festivals, Chinese New Year in January and Songkran in April, to try to help sluggish economy.
But on the other hand, some agencies -- including the Interior and the Foreign Affairs Ministry -- are more concerned about security and environmental degradation. On top of that, the visa-on-arrival process demands much more work on the part of immigration officers stationed at airports, especially Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang, given that there is zero screening from related embassies to prevent undesirables. Further checking only takes up more time, which will result in longer waits in queues for other tourists.
It's evident that immigration branches at the airports are not designed to tackle such a heavy workload.
Besides, the extension of the free visa-on-arrival scheme will cost the government dearly via a loss in visa fee revenue. Other citizens who are entitled to the gratis visa on arrival include those from Bhutan, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Mexico, Uzbekistan and Vanuatu.
If the authorities want to make the country attractive to foreign tourists, they must do more to ensure the country can maintain its charms -- such as its natural landscape and hospitality -- and do away with all the scams that give the kingdom a bad name.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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