Authorities mull easing tourist vehicle ban

Authorities mull easing tourist vehicle ban

New rules cause drop in Chinese visitors

The plan was to restrict Chinese tourists from roaming all over northern Thailand in their private vehicles. The practice was that Chinese have virtually stopped coming at all through points like the Thailand-Laos Friendship Bridge at Chiang Rai's Chiang Khong district, above. (Photo by Cheewin Sattha)
The plan was to restrict Chinese tourists from roaming all over northern Thailand in their private vehicles. The practice was that Chinese have virtually stopped coming at all through points like the Thailand-Laos Friendship Bridge at Chiang Rai's Chiang Khong district, above. (Photo by Cheewin Sattha)

The Transport Ministry is considering easing measures curbing the influx of foreign-registered tourist vehicles entering the North of Thailand, particularly from China, following a plunge in Chinese tourist arrivals which has dented tourism revenue.

Transport Ministry deputy permanent secretary Daroon Saengchai discussed the issue Thursday with Itthirit Kinglek, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, and tourism operators from Chiang Rai and Tak provinces.

The discussion focused on the impact the Land Transport Department's strict regulations on foreign-registered vehicles travelling into the country, which came into effect on June 27, have had on tourism operators.

The department (LTD) imposed the rule after an influx of visiting motorists resulted in a spike in traffic accidents and waste management problems.

The benefits from this group of tourists also were called into question since many of them did not stay in hotels.

Tourism operators complained the number of Chinese-registered vehicles which entered the northern border provinces dwindled considerably after the regulation came into effect.

Each year, more than 80,000 Chinese tourists drive their vehicles to the North of Thailand. On average, they spent about 30,000 baht per person a trip, according to tourism operators.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Daroon said tourism operators complained the regulations have put off Chinese tourists from driving their vehicles to northern Thailand, which in turn has adversely affected local tourism operators.

Mr Daroon said that 70% of Chinese tourists travel in caravans arranged by Thai tourism operators while the rest come in private vehicles.

The caravans, each comprising 5-10 vehicles, were unfamiliar with the surroundings but managed to stay their course and avoid accidents, as they were looked after by guides provided by tour operators, Mr Daroon said.

The department will consider relaxing the regulations for vehicles which are specified in the LTD announcement, he said.

He also said other types of vehicles that are not specified in the announcement may also be allowed to enter the country though they must make requests 30 days in advance.

However, Mr Daroon said the easing of the regulation will not apply to tourists driving private vehicles.

There has been a surge in Chinese motorists visiting the northern provinces following the opening in 2008 of the so-called Road 3 Asia, known as route R3A, linking southern China, Laos and Chiang Khong district in the northern province of Chiang Rai.

Apart from Chinese tourists, other foreign-registered motorists including those from Malaysia, Laos, Singapore and Myanmar have also been affected by the measure.

Only vehicles with a total of nine seats and pickup trucks with a maximum weight of 3.5 tonnes are currently allowed to travel into Thailand.

Motorists also need to seek permission and let authorities check their vehicles as they enter.


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