ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Thailand seeks visa deal with China
The cabinet yesterday approved the conditions for the Thai government to offer visas on arrival for visitors from China and Taiwan when the two countries do the same for Thai visitors. Chumpol Silpa-archa. the Tourism and Sports minister, said he would ask the Foreign Ministry to help negotiate the details with the two countries.
Thailand currently offers visas on arrival for visitors from many countries.
However, the cabinet rejected the Tourism Ministry's proposal to extend for another year from March 31 the exemption of visa fees of around 1,000 baht for Chinese and Taiwanese visitors, as well as increasing the length of stay to 90 days from 30 days.
During the first three months of this year, 5.3 million foreign tourists visited the kingdom, up 15 percent from the same period last year. There were 350,000 Chinese visitors.
Mr. Chumpol expressed confidence that Thailand would reach its target of attracting 16 million tourists in 2011, compared with 15.8 million last year.
Vichit Prakobgosol, president of the Thai-Chinese Alliance Association, said the visa waiver for Chinese tourists would help Thai tourism, and added that Chinese visitors to Thailand outnumbered Thai travellers to China.
Over the next two years, Chinese visitors would reach 2 million, up from 1.45 million in 2010, he said. Thai tourists to China will rise to 800,000 from 600,000 last year. "The exemption of visa fees for Thais may allow other countries to seek similar privileges from China, so their government will be careful," Mr Vichit said.
In another development, the Tourism Council of Thailand warned the country was losing its competitiveness to rivals in Asia.
The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2011 issued by the World Economic Forum dropped Thailand to 41st among 139 nations, from 39th in 2009. It was tenth in Asia-Pacific after Malaysia, Taiwan, and China, down from eighth in 2009. Malaysia is ranked seventh in the region this year.
The lower ranking reflects environmental sustainability and safety issues. Inconsistency in tourism-related information and government spending on tourism were also cited as problems. Long lines at immigration checkpoints at Bangkok and Phuket airports remain weak points, in addition to lack of infrastructure and high-speed internet.
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