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Thailand Mulls ‘Tourist Tax’ To Cover Foreigners' Unpaid Medical Bills
Source: http://www.economywatch.com/news/thailand-tourist-tax.23-10.html
Source Date: Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Focus: Electronic and Mobile Government
Country: Thailand
Created: Oct 23, 2013

The Thai government may begin charging foreigners up to 500-baht ($16.13) to enter the country starting from January next year, said authorities this week, in the hopes of attracting a better “quality” of holidaymakers and, at the same time, pay for tourists who seek treatment at local hospitals but can’t afford the bill.

Pradit Sintavanarong, Thailand's Public Health Minister, told the Bangkok Post on Monday that his ministry had reached an agreement with the Ministry of Tourism and Sports and the Royal Thai Police to implement the ‘tourist tax’, arguing that the extra charge would increase the number of high-value visitors to the country.

The Health Ministry's deputy permanent secretary, Charnvit Phrathep, further informed the Australian Associated Press that the 500-baht fee would apply only to air arrivals, while tourists entering by land would pay a fee of around 30 baht ($0.97) per day.

"In the longer term it (the levy) will add value to the tourism industry," said Charnvit. "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."

Charnvit highlighted that foreign tourists cost the state nearly 700 million baht ($22.59 million) in unpaid medical bills per year.

The Bangkok Post also noted that scheme would deter foreigners from staying in the country after their visas have expired. There are about 100,000 foreigners in Thailand whose visas have expired but they refuse to leave the country, the report said.

Pradit Sintavanarong expects the new entry charge could kick off in Mid-January. The government had initially planned to start implementing the ‘tourist tax’ from January 1st, but decided that there would be too many tourists entering the country at that time and they might get confused.

In a statement, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) stressed that it would still be open to other proposals to settle the issue of unpaid medical bills. One possible alternative could be the introduction of compulsory travel insurance for tourists entering the country.

Meanwhile, travel agents and hotel groups expressed opposition to the plan.

“If Thailand does something strange like this, there could be a long-term negative impact on the whole industry," added Samphan Panphat, adviser to the Thai Hotels Association.

Thailand attracted 22 million tourists last year, earning the country $US32 billion ($33 billion) in foreign exchange revenues.
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