Jan 16, 2009

World - Thailand plans to waive visa fees for tourists

BANGKOK: Thailand is considering waiving visa fees for three months in a bid to revive its key tourism industry, which has been battered by
political turmoil that culminated in the occupation of Bangkok's two airports late last year.

The measure, already approved by the government's economic ministers, will be proposed to the full Cabinet next week, Juthaporn Rerngronasa, deputy governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand said Friday.

``We hope this will be one of many measures that will boost the tourism industry in Thailand amid the global slowdown and following the political crisis,'' Juthaporn said.

Residents of many neighboring and Western countries already enjoy visa-free entry privileges for short visits, but those planning longer stays must obtain visas in advance for a fee of at least $30 per entry.

Earlier this week, Thailand's new government allocated 1 billion baht ($28.6 million) of its 115-billion-baht ($3.3 billion) fiscal stimulus package to rejuvenate the tourism industry, which accounts for about 5 percent of the country's economy.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who took office last month, earlier said the government will also consider discounts on aircraft landing fees.

Anti-government protests last year included the weeklong seizure of Bangkok's airports at the end of November, stranding more than 300,000 travelers.

The Bank of Thailand has estimated the country would lose 290 billion baht ($8.3 billion) as a result of the protests, which called for the ouster of the previous government led by allies of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. They accused Thaksin of corruption and abuse of power.

The central bank forecast that tourist arrivals this year would drop by 8.8 percent from 12.8 million in 2008.

Deputy government spokesman Puttipong Punnakan said the Cabinet plans to discuss other measures as well, including a short-term reduction in interest rates and property tax for hotel operators, and a reduction of airport surcharges, as well as discounts on air tickets.

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