Battle lines have been drawn over a controversial proposal to give Chinese and Indian tourists visa-free stays in Thailand.
Thailand’s Minister of Tourism and Sports, Phiphat Ratchakitprakan had earlier vowed to introduce a year-long concession starting 1 November that would allow Chinese and Indians to enjoy visa-free status.
Opposition came from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon who believes offering visa-free stays to the two nationalities would compromise security.
But the travel industry, which has a powerful lobby through the Association of Thai Travel Agents and the Tourism Council of Thailand, is predictably backing the Minister of Tourism downplaying perceived security concerns.
Tourism growth is slipping even though actual tourist arrivals in the first half of the year increased. The growth rate is marginal, and resorts such as Phuket are reporting drastic declines in occupancy. Some of the blame is attributed to the constant increase in hotels and room inventory.
If the Minister of Tourism and Sports wins the struggle, then Chinese and Indian visitors will be given a 15-day holiday stay in the country without an option to extend.
China is the largest supply market for Thai tourism, with move than 10 million visitors in 2018, while India supplied 1.6 million. Arrivals from India could increase to 3 million over one year if visa rules ease.
Both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Deputy PM claim visa-free travel encourages illegal migration, particularly from India.
ATTA admits the provision would increase the workload for Immigration Police, chasing overstays but insists that the bigger picture of supporting the recovery of the tourism industry should be the priority.