Thailand mulls tourist entry fee

2013-10-22 09:45

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Bangkok - Thailand is mulling slapping a 500-baht (R157 at R0.32/baht) entry fee on tourists to help cover foreigners' unpaid medical bills at hospitals, officials said Tuesday.

"The policy is the result of foreign tourists who have accidents or fall sick in Thailand and seek treatment at our hospitals but then can't pay their bills," the Health Ministry's Deputy Permanent Secretary Charnvit Phrathep said.

Foreign tourists' unpaid hospital bills cost the state about 700m baht (R220m) per year, according to the ministry.

"We try to send the bills on to the respective embassies but they always say they have no budgets," Charnvit said.

"We will be the first country to implement such a policy, but Britain and Cambodia are considering something similar."

The Interior Ministry, Health Ministry and Tourism Ministry had agreed on the policy, Health Minister Pradit Sintavanarong said in an interview with the Bangkok Post over the weekend.

The ministries were to try to draw up a regulation that would not require new legislation, and implement it from January 1.

The new policy might help prevent "trash" tourists from entering the country, Pradit was quoted as saying.

The 500-baht fee would apply to air arrivals. Tourists entering by land would pay a fee of 30 baht (R9.49) per day spent in the country.

Charnvit acknowledged that most Western tourists had health insurance, but said they would still have to pay, and would benefit from the policy.

"In the longer term it will add value to the tourism industry," he said. "We think most foreigners can afford 500 baht and if they come here and have a heart attack they will be happy to know they can get treatment at the nearest hospital with no questions asked."

Representatives of the tourism sector were less enthusiastic, and warned of a possible deterrent to tourists.

"Most foreigners who come here on tours already have medical insurance so this fee would be redundant," said Samphan Panphat, adviser to the Thai Hotels Association. "And there are questions about the transparency of the scheme."

"If Thailand does something strange like this, there could be a long-term negative impact on the whole industry," Samphan said.

Thailand last year attracted 22 million tourists, earning the country 32 billion dollars in foreign exchange revenues.

Some 26 million tourists are expected this year, who would have brought 13bn baht (R4bn) to state coffers under the 500-baht entry fee scheme.

- SAPA
Read more on:    thailand  |  travel  |  lifestyle  |  travel international
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