Visa incentives may last longer

The Tourism and Sports Ministry will propose to the cabinet next Tuesday to extend visa incentives for at least another three months in a bid to lure more foreign tourists and drive the industry during the low season.

The plan is expected to offset the sharp drop of Chinese tourists following the government's zero-dollar crackdown in late September last year, said Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanawrangkul on the sidelines of Asean Tourism Forum 2017 in Singapore.

The cabinet last year waived visa fees and halved the visa-on-arrival fee to 1,000 baht for tourists from 19 countries from Dec 1, 2016 to Feb 28, 2017.

This special visa scheme benefits visitors from Andorra, Bulgaria, Bhutan, China, Cyprus, Ethiopia, India, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, the Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Romania, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

The Tourism Department forecast a 13% drop in Chinese tourists this month, which is still lower than in November, which plunged 30% and was the biggest monthly contraction for Chinese arrivals to Thailand.

Mrs Kobkarn revealed the Chinese tourist market has gradually improved. Five Tourism Authority of Thailand offices in China reported Chinese tourists are returning to Thailand and the number of visa applications at Thai embassies in China is double the October-November period.

"Increasing visa applications means the impact of the zero-dollar tour crackdown is fading. This visa measure will help bring them back," she said.

Mrs Kobkarn said the visa scheme has increased foreign tourist arrivals since December. Last year there were 32.6 million arrivals in Thailand. During Jan 1-20, Thailand welcomed 1.8 million international tourists, up 6% year-on-year.

The incentives are in line with the World Travel and Tourism Council's focus on the benefits of visa facilitation.

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