Visa waiver pushed for China, India

Significant increase in visitors projected

the Tourism Council of Thailand supports A visa waiver for Chinese and Indian visitors to attract them to the country. (Bangkok Post photo)

A visa waiver for Chinese and Indian visitors is necessary for Thailand to boost tourism amid a sluggish global economy and stiff competition, says Chairat Trirattanajarasporn, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand.

Mr Chairat said he agreed with the concerns raised by the Foreign Ministry over national security issues from an influx of arrivals if there is a visa exemption. But it is the duty of immigration officers to develop a thorough inspection process to track down tourists who overstay, he said.

The Tourism and Sports Ministry has proposed a one-year period for free visas for tourists from China, for up to 15 days.

Mr Chairat said the government would lose revenue of about 10 billion baht in visa fees, but the increase in visitors would offset the fee losses through higher spending from tourists.

He encouraged the government to try the scheme for six months, then assess the results.

"If there are problems, we can stop the measure and return to waiving fees for visas on arrival," said Mr Chairat. "Without free visas, Thailand might not achieve its goal of 40 million foreign arrivals this year."

TAT eyes Chinese U-turn

Since the beginning of this year, China market's has been the epicentre of Thailand's tourism tremors, prompting Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to work at abating concerns.

Speaking from Shanghai while holding a meeting with directors of five TAT offices in China, TAT governor Yuthasak Supasorn told the Bangkok Post he listened to the outlook of this market thoroughly and has learned some useful recommendations from tour operators regarding stimulus plans to wake the sleeping giant.

He concluded the dip in Chinese visitors in the first half was understandable if compared with the same period last year, which saw robust growth of 20%. That record is hard to beat, especially given the unprecedented negative factors this year.

However, after learning about the outlook from five regional offices -- Beijing, Shanghai, Kunming, Chengdu and Guangzhou -- the trend for the third and fourth quarters remains positive as forward bookings of airlines' seats reached 80% from September.

Some charter flights from China that changed their destination to Vietnam following a safety crisis in Thailand at the end of last year have started to return to Thailand for the coming high season.

If there are problems, we can stop the measure and return to waiving fees for visas on arrival. Chairat Trirattanajarasporn President, Tourism Council of Thailand

"The drop in the Chinese market may spark a panic, but statistically speaking, when comparing the actual number with the rapid growth last year, it's hard to meet the same pace. While waiting for another stimulus package to be approved, we believe we should at least beat the 2017 performance," Mr Yuthasak said.

TAT still hopes to achieve 11 million Chinese arrivals this year because Chinese tour operators indicated the visa fee waiver is an assurance for them.

If the government works to facilitate this market, such as by providing more multiple-entry visas within a designated period as the Japanese government does, the returns could be significant, he said.

Mr Yuthasak insists there are big markets with good potential this year, such as Russia, which could reach 1.5 million arrivals, and India, which has already grown 20% with the visa-on-arrival waiver, will continue to reach 2 million.

Tourism arrivals should reach 40 million this year, which is moderate relative to available infrastructure.