Postpone tourism fee
A government policy to collect a 300-baht tourism fee from April onwards is a good example of doing the right thing at the wrong time.
Tourism operators and hoteliers, who agree with the concept, are nevertheless concerned that its timing will affect an already comatose tourism industry and they're calling for it to be postponed.
In the time ahead, the government must listen to such concerns instead of single-mindedly going on with the plan, just for the sake of having its mission completed.
For foreigners coming into Thailand via air, the 300-baht fee will be included in the air ticket while for land and sea entry, the entry fee will be collected by immigration officials at the border.
With millions of tourists visiting Thailand in a normal year, the government has long toyed with the idea of collecting a fee.
The latest junta government included it in the 20-year National Strategic Master Plan but its implementation was stalled by the pandemic.
Backers of the entry fee say it will provide recurring income to help sustain and stabilise the national economy, including the tourism sector.
Under the plan, the collected fee will be transferred to the Tourism Transformation Fund and managed by the Tourism and Sports Ministry.
The government's spokesperson, Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana was reported as saying the collected money will sponsor an insurance programme for tourists in case of accidents, offering tourists benefits worth 1 million baht in case of death, or a minimum of 500,000 baht for medical expenses.
The Tourism and Sports Ministry also plans to spend money on upgrading tourism capacities and infrastructure such as upgrading public toilets.
Regardless of the benefits of the policy, the government should bear in mind that even a worthy policy can backfire if introduced at the wrong time.
While a 300-baht fee might not be a lot of money, and many tourist destination countries have done similar, the additional charge will have an unwanted psychological effect on tourists.
While countries around the world are trying to woo tourists by offering them all conveniences, such as quarantine-free entry or even free vaccines, the Thai authorities have instead imposed strict requirements such as repeat PCR tests and lengthy mandatory quarantine which only drive out tourists to more convenient locations.
Needless to say, a 300-baht entry only makes things unnecessarily harder.
The government should follow advice from the private sector by postponing the fee until the tourism industry rebounds to pre-2019 levels, or at least when the tourism industry fully recovers.
If it does go ahead, the government needs to also ensure the collected funds do not just end up pooled with the central budget given to local administration and ministries where it could be whittled away or misused.
The concern remains that the big problem of tourism development in Thailand is not the lack of funds per se but how those funds are misused and wasted, along with money being siphoned to unscrupulous officials and politicians.
April is still some time away and the government can reconsider the fee's introduction date.
Either way, when it does go ahead, the government has to properly consult with all stakeholders on how to collect the money and disburse the funds in a sustainable and transparent manner.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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