Cabinet blocks visa plan

Cabinet blocks visa plan

Later closing mulled for nightlife areas

The cabinet yesterday shot down the Tourism and Sports Ministry's visa waiver proposal for Chinese and Indian visitors but agreed to extend the waiver of visa-on-arrival fees for tourists from 18 countries for another six months.

Speaking after a cabinet meeting which approved a 316-billion-baht economic stimulus package covering subsidies for the poor, domestic tour incentives and soft loans for farmers, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the cabinet did not take up the visa waiver proposal for consideration due to concerns raised by several agencies.

The cabinet decided to extend the waiver of visa-on-arrival fees for 18 countries for another six months, or until April next year. The current fee waiver programme for these nations was due to end on Oct 31.

The extended visa fee waiver is hoped to help boost tourist arrivals as the programme will cover Chinese New Year and the Songkran festival, he said.

The Tourism and Sports Ministry, under the supervision of the Bhumjaithai Party, had proposed to allow tourists from China and India to stay in Thailand for up to 30 days without needing to apply for a formal visa.

The measure, described as necessary to boost tourism amid a sluggish global economy and stiff competition, was opposed by the Foreign Ministry which warned of a potentially massive influx of tourists who might exploit the measure to escape from hardship and settle illegally in Thailand.

Government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat said the proposal was rejected due to various concerns including security, overuse of resources, management of waste and a lack of infrastructure to cope with a substantial increase in visitor numbers.

A source close to the cabinet meeting said that several ministers had weighed in over the proposal.

Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai was concerned that it would undermine the country's policy to encourage quality tourism while Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda cautioned about inadequate infrastructure, such as public transport networks.

Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn tried to defend the proposal, but the cabinet opted instead to waive visa-on-arrival fees for visitors from the 18 countries that include China and India.

"The proposed visa waiver programme for Chinese and Indian tourists is dropped," he said.

However, Mr Phiphat said the Tourism and Sports Ministry is considering allowing night entertainment venues in some tourist destinations to stay open until 4am instead of the current 2am.

The minister said he would bring the idea for cabinet discussion next week with suggestions as to which areas or tourist spots would be suitable.

According to Mr Phiphat, the proposal was unlikely to apply to all areas, but would cover popular tourist destinations in major provinces such as Phuket, Krabi and Chiang Mai.

He also argued that pubgoers were already likely to visit venues that remain open beyond the current legal operating hours.

"If we extend the closing times, it's easier for us to regulate," he said.

Mr Phiphat added that the ministry had adequate information but it would need about two weeks to make an assessment of how much more night-time tourists would spend on eating and drinking and related costs.

Gen Prayut said yesterday the Tourism and Sports Ministry had yet to propose an amendment to the licensing laws, describing it as just an idea that would need to be further examined.

Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda said several aspects need to be thought about.

"One can look at economic factors, but there are also social and cultural dimensions," according to Mr Anupong.

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