The fifth provisional date for the start of the long-delayed 300 baht (US$9) levy on virtually all international arrivals by land, sea and air is June 1 2023. The tourist ministry, announcing the revenue-raising ploy, pointed out that the introduction depended on Cabinet approval and publication in the Royal Gazette before the current government coalition calls a general election due not later than early May.
The proposal, first mooted five years ago, is designed principally to refurbish tourist sites, including the building of public toilets and the repainting dilapidated monuments, with a small proportion left over for what is ingeniously described as “tourist insurance”. This has nothing whatever to do with covering the medical bills of 99.9 percent of uninsured visitors, but is a discretionary cash-pot to award payments when tourists are killed or maimed in bad-publicity cases such as minibus crashes, boats sinking and similar macabre tragedies which require that something has to be done.
The issue has always been, and remains, from whom and by what means the fee is to be collected. These incidentals remains a mystery for now. The ministry states that “tourists” are the target, but press conference comments clarified that all expats are now tourists with the single exemption of holders of work permits who will need to pay up whilst reclaiming the 300 baht later by some still-to-be-defined procedure. But there is no doubt that longstay retirees, foreigners with Thai spouses, Elite visa holders etc are all “tourists” for this cash-raising purpose.
The obvious way is to add the 300 baht to the airfare of incoming tourists. But how will the airlines computers distinguish between foreigners and Thais? And how will the cash be collected at land border posts without enormous queues forming as incoming visitors clutch currencies of various countries and demand change, or wave auto-payment cards which don’t always work or take ages to process? Thailand’s ports may be less of a problem as it was hinted that cruise passengers “might” be exempted. All we know for sure is that the fee will be paid on the basis of an individual’s passport nationality which suggests cash payment options at the point of entry by land, sea or air.
So everyone must wait for now. After the saga, earlier this month, when orders were given to all foreigners landing at Thai airports to produce their vaccination certificates before being abruptly cancelled because of travel chaos, let’s hope that somebody somewhere is looking at the small print. It’s tedious but true: the devil is in the detail. Always.