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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        31  January 2011

Elite Card operator stifled

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The operator of the Thailand Elite Card has suffered another setback after the Council of State offered an unofficial interpretation that the card's extended visa privileges could not be used in its membership terms of reference.

Thailand Privilege Card Co is now left with only two choices. The first calls for its 2,566 members to be placed under the authority of the Tourism Authority of Thailand and there be no more members accepted.

The TAT would have to shoulder the long-term operating costs of 108 million baht a year or 9 million baht a month.

The other option requiring the closure of the company is also problematic because of the need to refund membership fees and the payment of other costs estimated at 3 billion baht.

There is also the damage caused to the country's image if the members decide to sue the company. The chair of Thailand Privilege Card Co's board of directors, Pensuda Phrai-aram, said the company would have to find a way out through negotiation.

The Thailand Elite Card, touted as the world's first national privilege card, was launched by the Thaksin Shinawatra government in 2003. The card, priced from one million to 2 million baht in the past and now costing 1.5 million baht, offers a fast-track immigration service, discounts at luxury resorts and golf courses, and many other perks aimed at increasing tourism revenue. It had been planned to auction the operation to investors at a starting price of 500 million baht, payable to the government. The buyer would absorb the company's costs and keep on staff for at least one year. Ms Pensuda said yesterday the selling price was now expected to be less than 500 million baht.

In the interim, the company would convert its last cash of US$4.2 million to baht. The company would then have about 130 million baht for use to fund its operations.

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This year in Thailand-what next?

04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More

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