BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Amid declining numbers of visitors, notably from China, during the traditional tourist high season, a desperate Cabinet agreed on Tuesday (Nov 6) to waive the 2,000-baht (S$83.50) visa-on-arrival fee for tourists from 20 countries and Taiwan for 60 days to rev up one of the main engines of economic growth.
Meanwhile, the government's economic tsar, Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, on Tuesday made a deal in Shanghai with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba to help promote Thailand as a tourist destination to Chinese people.
From December 1 until the end of January, tourists from 20 countries will be able to enjoy the fee waiver as "a New Year's gift". Taiwanese travellers are entitled to the fee waiver as well.
The duration of stay, however, will remain unchanged at 15 days.
Passport holders of Andorra, Bulgaria, Bhutan, China, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Fiji, India, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Romania, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan can take advantage of the waiver.
The proposal was made to the Cabinet by the Immigration Bureau to boost falling tourist numbers over the peak New Year holiday season.
Thailand has seen a continuous decrease in the number of tourists, more than 10 per cent over the past three months, said government spokesman Puttipong Punnakanta.
The number of tourists coming through Suvarnabhumi Airport in 2016 and 2017 were 3.1 million and 2.2 million respectively, he said, but from January to September this year, the number had declined to 1.7 million.
It is hoped the visa-fee exemption will attract 30 per cent more tourists and help generate more income for the tourism industry and the entire economy, he said, while declining to estimate the loss in revenue from the visa-fee waiver.
Puttipong said what was of greater importance was an influx of more tourists to the country. Involved parties should be prepared to ensure smooth administration, he added.
In the past few years, Thailand has been a popular destination among Chinese tourists but due to a recent boat tragedy in the resort island of Phuket which killed more than 40 people, the number of tourists from China has dropped significantly.
Observers in the industry said social media in China had spread negative reports about Thailand over the past few months, resulting in a decline in Chinese visitors.
Comments on the boat tragedy made by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan months ago, the crackdown on zero-dollar package tours as well as news of an outbreak of dengue in the Kingdom had made Chinese tourists wary, according to an expert on Chinese affairs.
The number of Chinese visitors dropped dramatically from 939,771 in July, when the boat tragedy took place, to 867, 461 in August, down 11.7 per cent, according to the Tourism and Sports Ministry.
Tour operators, hotels and restaurants in Phuket have confirmed that there were still no signs of Chinese tourists returning to the province.
In the popular eastern seaside resort of Pattaya, deputy mayor Poramet Ngampichet called a meeting with concerned agencies and stakeholders in the tourism sector to map out measures to boost visitor numbers following a sharp decline in tourists.
Chinese are among the top visitors to Pattaya, totalling 2.5 million last year.
The authorities in Pattaya would take more measures to ensure safety and hygiene for tourists, he said. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Somkid said yesterday that China's e-commerce giant Alibaba had agreed to help promote Thai tourism.
On November 11, or "11/11" - when Chinese people celebrate "Singles Day" - Alibaba will launch a 20-second video on its website to encourage Chinese tourists to travel to Thailand, he said.
The video is expected to reach as many as 800 million Chinese, Somkid said after his meeting in Shanghai yesterday with Alibaba's executives, including its founder and president, Jack Ma.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand had already been instructed to create the video, Somkid said, adding he himself might be featured in the presentation to convey the message of convenience and safety in travelling to Thailand.