Tourism operators reject free visa plan

Tourism operators are urging the government not to offer free visas to Chinese tourists citing concern about the country’s stability.

The idea of free visas has become a hot topic among private tourism operators. Many argue that while it helps boost tourism it would also allow foreigners to bypass the immigration process.

They suggest that Chinese tourists should still be required to process visas but the fees should be reduced or waived.

The Yingluck Shinawatra-government floated the idea to waive visa fees for Chinese travellers with the aim to boost the number of visitors from China, but the idea did not get off the ground.

It hoped the increased number of Chinese tourists would help the country achieve the tourism revenue target of 2 trillion baht in 2014 and 2.2 trillion baht in 2015.

But the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) conducted a survey on the issue and found that while free visas would be convenient many points needed to be carefully considered.

At present, most Chinese tourists are still low-end and the growth of this market is affecting other markets.

According to a TAT poll last August, three markets — Britain, Germany and France — were affected by the growth in numbers of Chinese tourists.

Moreover, the TAT found major competitors such as South Korea, Japan and Asean countries did not offer free visas to Chinese tourists.

Besides, the capacity of many Thai airports, especially in resort destinations, cannot serve demand from more Chinese flights preferring to land at night.

However, the study saw the possibility for free visa requirement for Chinese tourists in the future if major arrivals were middle- and high-end tourists rather than low-end travellers.

The Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT) said China was an important market for Thai tourism. If Thailand wants to revive the tourism business, it needs to start with the big tourist markets like China.

“Waiving visa fees should be a good solution for Thailand to lure more Chinese tourists,” said TCT president Piyaman Techapaiboon.

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