Thai Government Discusses New Tourism and Transport Decisions

Announcements from both the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Sports and Tourism in the government of Prime Minister Prayut in Thailand are fueling debates but also controversies within the government. The new decisions affect taxi fares, Thai Airways purchase of aircraft, visa waiver for Chinese and Indian travellers as well as the opening of pubs in Bangkok…

Starting with the Ministry of Transport first. Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob announced in July to agree on raising fares for taxis as well as officially legalising Grab ride-sharing vehicles. Under the new pricing structure, the flag fare of 35 baht for the first kilometre will remain unchanged but fare per kilometre for the first 10km will rise by 0.50 baht, while charge for taxis blocked in a traffic jam will increase from 2 baht to 3 baht per minute. The airport taxi surcharge is due to increase from 50 baht to 70 baht for regular taxis, and 90 baht for taxi vans. Moreover, the Land Transport Department would allow taxis to charge passengers Bt20 per bag for the third bag.

They have been some discussions with the possibility to eventually delay the hike- due to come on September 1st. But the fare increase seems unavoidable as taxi prices have not been reevaluated for more than seven years now.

A new polemic is rising over the purchase and/or leasing of aircraft by national carrier Thai Airways International. First fully approved by the Cabinet- including the Minister of Transport, the same Ministry is now looking at loss-ridden Thai Airways International Plc (THAI) to provide precise details of how the acquisition of this 38 new aircraft will help the carrier turning losses into a profit. The purchase is estimated to cost the airline US$5.2 billion (156 billion baht). Thailand national carrier is due to provide to the ministry market analysis, customer behaviour, goals, details on flight routes, operational costs and revenue projection, as well as aircraft use.

The Ministry cautious approach is certainly fueled by the objections from workers union at the airline. Unions fear that mobilizing such an amount of money will need to be compensate by further savings in other fields. Thai Airways accumulated debt reaches more than 100 billion baht- very close to the proposed amount for the aircraft’s purchase.

Another discussion is now involving the Ministry of Sports and Tourism. The new minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn recently announced that he wanted to waive visa requirements for both Chinese and Indian tourists in a way to stimulate sluggish international tourist arrivals. The proposal has been disagreed by many ministers within the cabinet.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon on Monday weighed in by disagreing with granting both countries “easy access” to the Kingdom and put at risk national security. last week, Thailand Minister of foreign affairs Don Pramudwinaiwhich warned of a potentially massive influx of tourists from China and India who could also translate into illegal settlement and business in Thailand.

The visa waiver proposal would allow tourists from China and India to stay in Thailand for up to 15 days without needing to apply for a formal visa. The visa waiver fee would be valid from November 1st to October 31, 2020. The Foreign Ministry thinks that visa waiving will need careful consideration as Thailand infrastructure is also not ready to manage a larger number of travellers.

“We thank all visitors but we cannot accept them all if we are not ready. We will try first to increase our capacity. The main point is that we have to manage our resources more efficiently,” explained the Minister to Thai media. The Minister of Tourism insisted to still put the proposal to the cabinet for consideration…

Last but not least, the same Minister indicated to look at boosting Bangkok appeal as an entertaining city. Bars and pubs in some tourist destinations be allowed to stay open until 4am instead of the current 2am to entice foreign tourists to spend more. His proposal did not face any resilience so far from the Ministry of Interior. In the past, pubs and bars used to close at 4am in designated areas such as Silom in Bangkok, Pattaya, Patong in Phuket or Ao Nam in Krabi…