The timing is out on Thailand’s announcement that it will impose an additional THB500 fee on foreigners entering the country sometime next year.
Someone has lost touch with the bellwether’s warning that travellers are fed up with the increased costs associated with a visit to Thailand. Yet it is about to add another cost, and it won’t go down well with leisure travellers keen to keep travel expenses down in the wake of Covid-19.
It’s not that they can’t afford THB500 to fund improvements to the country’s tourism infrastructure, but when all the other mandatory costs are taken into account, it sends a negative message – greed is at play.
As the country heads for less than 300,000 tourists this year, can we honestly believe Thailand will reach 10 million next year when the Covid-19 pandemic ebbs and flows like a deadly riptide?
The Bangkok Post broke the bad news on the new tax at the weekend, quoting Ministry of Tourism and Sports officials who claim the THB500 donation will feed the country’s “Tourism Transformation Fund.” They have to be joking. At best, the ministry has set a 10 million tourist arrivals next year, but the reality could be considerably south of that estimate. Then the arithmetic on the cost of collecting the tax will kick in. On 40 million tourist arrivals passing through land, air and sea checkpoints, the tax might well be worth the collection headaches, but then you have to factor in seepage and evaporation, definitely negative factors at many land borders. But the tax might be limited to affluent air travellers arriving at international airports rather than overland tourists, which again reduces the potential fundraising campaign.
One of the country’s most popular English Language bloggers, Richard Barrow, said he assumed the THB500 would be added to the fees travellers pay when they buy an air ticket that already includes a THB700 airport tax.
He correctly notes that foreign visitors are already paying over the odds when they visit national parks and a host of other attractions and services, including hospitals that adhere to a dual pricing policy. For example, Thais pay THB40 to enter a national park while foreigners pay THB400 for the same experience.
The new tourist tax or fee has jumped the bureaucratic hoops to achieve approval. It just remains for the tourism minister to wave the green flag. But the travel industry certainly believes it’s an understatement to say the timing is out.
We are talking about a prolonged recovery from Covid-19 that will take us possibly to 2026 to recover lost ground and get us back to 2018 or 2019 tourist totals. When that day dawns, collecting a THB500 fee might make financial sense for the authorities. However, they should recognise that it will never make sense to tourists. They are fast becoming disillusioned with Thailand as holiday costs escalate. As we learn to live with Covid-19 in the years to come, we will also see the tourism landscape shift. Countries that are winners today could become the losers of tomorrow, as competitors seize the moment to offer a better holiday deal and experience where the welcome mat actually means what it says.