PHUKET: Conflicting announcements from the Royal Forestry Department (RFD) have left tour operators and dive companies wondering just what the policy on national park entry fees is, how it will be applied, and when. On August 15, the RFD announced an increase in entry fees – for foreigners only – to 200 baht for adults and 100 baht for children. On Saturday, after a meeting four days earlier between members of parliament and tourism companies, the chief of the RFD, Plodprasop Suraswadi, announced that the fee hike would be suspended until October 2001. However, at a meeting of the Dive Operators’ Club of Thailand held in Phuket on Saturday evening, the chief of the Similans Marine National Park, Wittaya Hongwiangchan, announced that the new fees would be applied as soon as the Similans open again, on November 2. He also announced a scheme whereby dive companies and tour operators may be allowed to buy coupons, allowing them to get their clients into the Similans at the old rate. Individuals wanting to visit the Similans will, however, have to pay the new fee, K. Wittaya said. The coupon scheme was discussed today at a meeting in Bangkok chaired by K. Plodprasop and attended by chiefs of the four marine parks in southern Thailand. The meeting was still going on as this story was written. Another meeting will be held on either Friday or Monday in Phuket to lay out full details of the coupon scheme, K. Wittaya said. This will leave companies that wish to apply for coupons just three days to submit applications. Applicants will have to file relevant documents, including company registration, confirmed, tentative, and forecast reservations, as well as contracted rate agreements with overseas clients. Applications must receive approval from K. Plodprasop himself, from the director of the Natural Resources Conservation Office, and from either the director of the National Parks Division or the director of the Marine National Parks Division. Without these approvals, operators will not be allowed to buy the special coupons. That is, unless the RFD changes its mind again.
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