Tue, Aug 29, 2017 - Page 3 News List

Free Thai visas remain in doubt

Staff writer, with CNA

Thailand has not yet decided if it would continue issuing free visas for Taiwanese, a policy due to expire at the end of this month, the Thailand Trade and Economic Office’s director of tourism said yesterday.

“Right now, we don’t have an answer from our government” about the visa issue, said Chookiet Potito, who was attending a tourism promotion campaign aimed at increasing Taiwan-Thailand travel exchanges.

The Thai government launched a three-month program in December last year to allow Taiwanese tourists free visas — which normally cost NT$1,200 each — and in February extended it to Aug. 31.

However, Thaliand has given no indication that it will further extend the privilege, a concern raised by tourists and travel agencies.

“We definitely need the government to negotiate visa concessions for us,” New Taipei City Association of Travel Agents deputy secretary-general Hsiao Ming-jen said.

Hsiao said local travel agencies have worked to bolster interest in travel to Thailand in recent years “because the country has too many uncertainties.”

“It would be a pity if incentives such as visa concessions do not continue,” Hsiao added.

Besides natural disasters and political turmoil, the death in October last year of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej dealt a tremendous blow to Thailand’s tourism industry, he said.

However, the Tourism Bureau said the visa program has not injected much energy into Thailand travel.

Taiwanese visitor arrivals to Thailand were 599,523 in 2015 and 532,787 last year, bureau data showed.

In the first half of this year 266,960 Taiwanese visited Thailand, a 6 percent year-on-year drop.

However, Chookiet said statistics from the Thailand Tourism Bureau recorded about 3 percent growth in Taiwanese traveling to Thailand during the same period, adding that the two bureaus have different qualifying criteria.

From Thailand’s viewpoint, anyone entering the country on a Taiwanese passport fits the tourist category, while Taiwanese authorities only count nationals departing from Taiwan.

Chookiet said that the visa waiver concessions have been drawing too much public attention.

“[The visa privilege] is not the main reason for Taiwanese tourists to visit Thailand,” he said, adding that Thailand’s tourist attractions and hospitable people make it an appealing travel destination internationally.

Taiwan granted visa waivers to Thai visitors from Aug. 1 last year, and there has been increasing public demand for a reciprocal agreement.

The government has requested continued visa benefits or even a visa waiver program.

The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Thailand issued statements in Chinese, Thai and English to lobby for such a move.

The office has even touched on cross-strait issues, which is thought to be the main reason for Thailand’s hesitation.

“Granting visa waivers to Taiwanese should be regarded as pragmatic rather than political,” the office said. “China has never mentioned Taiwan to its 109 diplomatic allies that have granted visa waivers for Taiwanese passport-holders,” the office said.

The office said that Thailand granted visitors from Hong Kong and Macau visa waivers before considering the same treatment for mainland Chinese, which shows that granting Taiwanese visa waivers could also be considered separately.

“It does not seem to conflict with Thailand’s ‘one China’ principle,” the office said.

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