Kazakhstan considers visa waiver for Thais

Kazakhstan considers visa waiver for Thais

Kazakhstan is working to offer a visa waiver for Thai nationals in a move to attract more Thai visitors to the land-locked Central Asian republic.

Air Astana deploys Boeing 767-300ER aircraft for flights to Bangkok.

That move has got underway as Kazakh flag carrier Air Astana on Dec 15 inaugurated its second direct air service from capital Astana to Bangkok.

Marat Yessenbayev, Kazakh ambassador to Thailand, said the abolishment of visa requirements for Thai nationals could happen in the next 18 months.

"We are working on that possibility (of visa exemption) with the Thai Foreign Ministry,'' he told the Bangkok Post.

He sees the visa exemption as a key driver to boost Thai visitors, especially tourists, to Kazakhstan, now at a meagre number.

Only about 1,000 Thai nationals visit the former Soviet Union republic each year, far less than the 7,000-odd Kazakhs who arrive in Thailand for holidays annually.

Kazakhstan's complicated visa process has been cited as a major impediment to Thais' visiting the country which remains off the local's tourism radar.

According to a Bangkok-based executive familiar with Kazakh travel, the complication begins with securing a "letter of invitation" from Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry, which costs US$100 (3,200 baht) and takes a few weeks.

Then there is a charge of $40 for a tourist visa and $80 for a business visa, which may take another week.

But some Thai visitors get around the process by applying for a transit visa, which costs $20 and one week to process, but that is only possible if they have flights to other countries and are only stopping over in Kazakhstan.

The plan to abolish the requirement for visas for short-term visits by Thais shows Astana's intent to promote its emerging tourism industry and gear up for Expo 2017 in Astana which is themed "Future Energy".

According to the World Bank, the country attracted 4.8 million International inbound tourists in 2012. There are only about 10 countries, including Japan, Hong Kong and Malaysia, whose citizens receive visa exemptions for visits to Kazakhstan.

Air Astana's new, non-stop Astana-Bangkok flight initially operates twice weekly, and supplements the daily direct service from Almaty to Bangkok that launched in 2003.

The airline uses new Boeing 767-300ER aircraft, configured with 30 seats in business class and 193 in economy, for both routes. About 430,000 passengers have flown on Air Astana's Bangkok-Almaty route, the airline said.

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