GEORGE TOWN (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Tour buses and vans from Malaysia and Singapore will no longer be allowed to operate beyond Thailand's Songkhla province beginning Friday.
Tourists who wish to travel beyond Songkhla, which is also where Haadyai is located, will have to switch to Thai-operated buses or vehicles.
For the past 39 years, Malaysian and Singaporean tour buses and vans have been allowed to travel all over Thailand.
A source familiar with the new ruling claimed that this was an act of retaliation to the Malaysia Land Public Transport Commission's (SPAD) stringent checks on licence plates and window tints of Thai vehicles entering Malaysia.
He also told The Star that a Thai tour guide is now required to accompany a foreign bus or van once it crosses into Thailand.
"Foreign buses and vans into Thailand have their own tour guides, and this has caused much rivalry with those in the tourism business here," the source said, adding that one of the reasons is the loss of income for those in the Thai tourism industry.
Tourism Business Club of Songkhla president Ekkasip Sulong said the new ruling would see a drop in Malaysian tourists coming to Thailand.
"Hotels and traders here will be affected, and most tour guides in the Songkhla province do not agree with the new ruling," Sulong said, adding that the club will be submitting a letter on this matter to the Thai Ministry of Tourism.
According to the club's former vice-president Chirasak Chantawadee, between 70 and 100 buses enter Thailand from Malaysia daily, with numbers spiking during Malaysian public holidays and special Thai festivals such as the Phuket Vegetarian Festival in October.
"To close the door suddenly will be a problem to Malaysian buses and transport providers. The government will be observing the situation for the first two months beginning today.
"If the number of foreign tourists here decreases, there is a possibility that Songkhla governor Thamrong Charoenkul will chair another meeting to discuss the possibility of reverting to the previous rule," Chantawadee said.
When contacted, Tourism Authority of Thailand public relations manager C. Somboon said the ruling on the use of Thai tour guides has been there for some time, but was never strictly enforced.
"As with any changes, there is bound to be some impact until operators of tour buses and tour vans get used to things. We believe the effect will be minimal after that," Somboon said.