By Pongphon Sarnsamak
The government's attempt to launch a new regulation to collect an entry fee from foreign tourists to cover their emergency medical services could prompt tourists to choose destinations in other countries.
The concern, raised by the Tourism Council of Thailand, comes after the Public Health Ministry proposed a plan to collect Bt500 as a fee for entering the country from foreign tourists staying in Thailand from three to 30 days; and Bt30 for less than three days. The fee would be used to support a ministry programme providing emergency medical services for foreign tourists.
According to Public Health Minister Pradit Sintavanarong, currently the ministry has to shoulder about Bt200 million to Bt300 million as the financial burden for providing emergency medical services for foreign tourists.
Each year, the ministry estimates that about 23 million foreign tourists from around the world visit Thailand. It expected that if the plan to collect a fee for entering the country were approved by the Cabinet, the ministry would be able to collect about Bt10 billion.
This money would be used to support the ministry’s budget to provide emergency medical services for foreign tourists suffering serious illness or injury. Under this plan, each foreign patient would be covered by Bt200,000 to Bt300,000 in emergency care. This budget would also be used to develop healthcare units and procure medical devices.
“They [foreign patients] must pay to enter the country because they have to use our medical resources,” Pradit said.
The ministry is now discussing with related agencies – the National Security Council, Foreign Affairs Ministry, Tourism and Sport Ministry, Labour Ministry and Immigration Bureau – to find appropriate ways to collect the fees.
If the agencies come up with a good plan, it will be deliberated by the Cabinet before the Office of the Prime Minister makes an announcement.
But Tourism Council of Thailand president Piyaman Tejapaibul does not believe this plan would benefit the tourism industry. Instead of attracting more and more tourists to visit our country, the plan would hurt tourist figures, Piyaman said.
“Each year Thailand gets a lot of revenue from the tourism industry – but the government has never used money from this industry to develop and support tourism,” she said.
Currently, many tourists bring their own travel insurance from private insurance agencies in case of unexpected accident or illness, covering them for medical services in the destination country. Some countries require travellers to attach their health insurance when applying for a visa, so that they do not have to shoulder the burden of paying fees for medical services at their destination.
“We want good tourists to visit Thailand – not the [type of tourist] who does not want to enter because he or she has to pay Bt500 as an entrance fee,” Pradit said. He added that European countries and the US have supported the government in collecting entrance fees from their tourists, as they see that the plan would reduce risks for their citizens travelling abroad.