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Visa-on-Arrival Exemption Sought for Thailand’s Songkran Festival

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BANGKOK – The Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta) has approached Thailand’s Junta Government to extend the waiver of visa-on-arrival (VOA) fees past Jan 13 and to the end of April to lure international visitors during Songkran.

Wichit Prakobkosol, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta), said the two-month fee exemption for 21 countries, which began on Nov 15, is too short for tour businesses to arrange marketing plans.

Normally travel operators need 30-60 days in advance for arranging trips and travel packages, especially for big tour groups.

For instance, the Chinese market generally takes one month for marketing and collecting customers, and a further month for booking and getting airline seats, Mr Wichit said.

He told the Bangkok Post that waiving the VOA fee should help restore China and other markets, but the initiative will have better results if the exemption period is extended.

Mr Wichit said many Chinese tourists will come to Thailand in the first week of February to celebrate Chinese New Year, while tourists from other countries, especially in Southeast Asia, will come to enjoy Songkran in April.

“If the VOA scheme is extended, we believe that the number of Chinese tourists will increase to 3 million in the first quarter next year, the same as the first quarter this year,” he said. “But if it is not extended, arrivals from mainland China will total about 2.5 million.”

Growth in the China market in 2019 is unlikely to reach 10% as in recent years, due to factors such as China’s economic slowdown, the weakening of the yuan and trade tensions between China and the US.

“Optimistically, I hope the China market will grow 5-8% this year,” Mr Wichit said.

Atta yesterday revealed figures for the use of services of its members in November, before and after the VOA fee waiver.

Tourists travelling to Thailand dropped in the range of 11-30% a day during Nov 1-14 compared with the year-earlier period. Despite improvement in the latter half of the month, the figure remained in contraction.

Atta expects improvement in the numbers this month and a resumption of growth in January.

The VOA scheme is apt to spur other key markets such as India, one of the 21 nations included in the fee waiver.

According to statistics of the Tourism and Sports Ministry, Indian tourists visiting Thailand totalled 1.28 million in the first 10 months this year, up from 1.18 million in the year-earlier period, a gain of 11.2%.

As of Nov 20, Indian tourists using Atta were up 8.5%, from 221,478 to 240,357.

India is one of the emerging markets for Thai tourism in the next 5-10 years, due to its rapid economic growth and large population.

“We’re watching and preparing for the next wave of the India market,” Mr Wichit said. “It may surpass China with over 10 million visitors a year, perhaps within the next decade.”

Atta predicts total Chinese tourists in Thailand to reach 10.5 million this year, down from an earlier forecast of 12 million, due to declining visitor numbers in the wake of the Phuket boat disaster in July.

The group expects 11.5 million Chinese arrivals in 2019.

By Suchat Sritama