Visa-free Chinese tourism raises concerns over illegal Thailand tour operations

Picture courtesy of Apichart Jinakul.

The recent decision to exempt Chinese visitors from visa requirements sparked concerns within the Tourism Department about potential loopholes for illegal zero-dollar tours and unlicensed tour guides. The worry stems from the inability to verify the legitimacy of tour companies during the visa-free period.

The department’s director-general, Jaturon Phakdeewanit, revealed that this issue was flagged to Tourism and Sports Minister Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol following the Cabinet’s approval of the visa exemption scheme for Chinese and Kazakh tourists, effective from September 25 to February 29, 2024.

In an earlier move this month, the Tourism Department, the Consular Affairs Department, and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) inked a memorandum of understanding (MoU) aimed at developing a system to synchronize inbound tourist data. This agreement enabled the Consular Affairs Department to expedite visa approvals for Chinese tour groups, given that details about legal inbound tour companies and job orders, including tour itineraries, were available in the Tourism Department’s system for security reasons.

Over 300 inbound companies, partnering with Chinese outbound companies, are registered with the Tourism Department. However, this collaborative system will temporarily cease during the visa exemption period, as there will be no requirement to verify tour companies for visas, revealed Jaturon, reported Bangkok Post.

In response to this, the department, alongside the Provincial Tourism and Sports Office, intends to conduct random inspections of tour groups at popular tourist destinations. Jaturon said these groups will still need to submit a job order.

“We will check if they are a legal tour company, hiring legal tour guides and implementing a tourism programme as reported in their job orders.”

The director-general also mentioned that inspections could be carried out whilst tourists are travelling within Thailand, rather than pre-entry screening. Authorities maintain their commitment to tracking and taking action against illegal foreign tour guides, using the Tourism Business and Guide Act as a reference.

According to the Immigration Act, only Thai nationals are permitted to act as tour guides, with illegal foreign tour guides facing possible expulsion.

In line with their strategy for the first 100 days, the Tourism Department plans to sign another MoU with five organisations to eradicate nominee tour businesses. These include the Office of the Permanent Secretary of the Tourism Ministry, the Tourist Police, the Department of Business Development, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), and the Immigration Bureau.

The DSI, for example, will hold the power to scrutinise tour companies’ financial transactions, particularly if the revenue is directed to foreigners rather than Thai owners.

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Alex Morgan

Alex is a 42-year-old former corporate executive and business consultant with a degree in business administration. Boasting over 15 years of experience working in various industries, including technology, finance, and marketing, Alex has acquired in-depth knowledge about business strategies, management principles, and market trends. In recent years, Alex has transitioned into writing business articles and providing expert commentary on business-related issues. Fluent in English and proficient in data analysis, Alex strives to deliver well-researched and insightful content to readers, combining practical experience with a keen analytical eye to offer valuable perspectives on the ever-evolving business landscape.

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