PHUKET: It’s official: the postponement of the fee hike for foreigners visiting national parks in Thailand has been canceled. Thais will be allowed into the parks at the old price, ranging from as little as 5 baht to 20 baht, whereas foreigners (including foreigners resident in Thailand) will have to pay 200 baht for adults and 100 baht for children. As a way to mollify tour and dive operators, a concessionary coupon scheme has been launched to allow the operators to take clients into the parks at the old rate. Discussions held at the Marine National Parks Division offices in Bangkok on Tuesday firmed up plans for the coupon system. The scheme, which threatens to be a bureaucratic nightmare, will work as follows: Coupons will be issued for all of Thailand’s national parks. The price will be 20 baht (10 baht for children) except for the Surin and Similans Marine National Parks, which will be priced at 40 baht (20 baht for children). Operators wishing to buy coupons must submit an application to join the scheme to the Marine National Parks Department of the RFD in Bangkok. The deadline for submission of applications will be the end of office hours on October 19. Upon receiving the application, the Marine National Parks Department (MNPD) will issue the operator with a receipt. As part of the application, operators will have to specify how many coupons they will need for the year up to September 30, 2001. They will not be allowed to buy more coupons later on if business is better than anticipated. If they buy fewer coupons than stated on the application, they risk being blacklisted by the RFD, and may be refused entry to the parks in the 2001-2002 high season. “It will take about a week to approve an application if all the documents are correct,” explained Suwan Prasertphon, senior officer at the MNPD. Once the application is approved, the operator will receive a confirmation fax or letter, following which he should again visit the MNPD, taking with him the fax or letter and the application receipt. He will then be required to fill in a second application form, this time to buy a specific number of coupons. K. Suwan explained that each coupon will be divided into three parts. The first part will be kept on file at the RFD. The tour companies will then have two parts: one as a receipt for the client and one to be handed over to the park officer on entry to the park. “Tour operators must provide us with a copy of the company chop to stamp the back of all three parts of the coupons in order to identify which companies bought them,” K. Suwan added. After a couple of days, once the civil servants have finished chopping the backs of the coupons, the operator may go back to the MNPD office for a third time to collect his coupons. The procedure must be repeated whenever the operator wishes to buy more coupons. Operators will not be obliged to buy the whole year’s allotment of coupons at once; they may spread purchases through the year. The coupons will be in books of 100. Each purchase will require the operator to fill in an application form, then return after a couple of days to pick up the coupons, duly chopped. “A company must buy [in the course of the year] exactly the same number of coupons as specified in the initial application form. Failing that, they will be recorded in a list of unreliable operators who may be denied entry to the parks next high season,” said K. Suwan. The chief of the Similan Islands Marine National Park, Wittaya Hongwiangchan, told the Gazette that each coupon will be valid for five nights/six days per entry, and will be good for one entry only. “So, in case of dive operators, if they want to visit the Similans for a couple of days, then go to the Surins, and then back to the Similans again, they will have to use three entry coupons per client,” he explained. Exceptions in the case of difficulties caused by bad weather will be considered by the chief of the park himself. K. Suwan said that he expects a meeting to be held in Phuket at the end of October between RFD officials – possibly including RFD chief Plodprasop Suraswadi – the Tourism Authority of Thailand and tour and dive operators, at which the details of the scheme will be explained and questions answered. To confirm details of requirements for applications, operators should call K. Suwan at the Marine National Parks Division of the RFD on (02) 5797047.
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