Authorities are seeking to stop so-called ‘zero dollar’ tours from operating in Thailand. The low-cost prepaid package tours are popular with groups visiting from other Asian countries, especially China. In order to draw in clients, they are sold at prices that are widely considered unreasonably low. However, the packages are notorious for allegedly pushing expensive additional products and services on the tourists once they arrive in Thailand, generating high margins for the operators in order to balance the costs of running the cheap trips.
The Bangkok Post reports that government officials are looking to clamp down on the practice – which authorities estimate generates annual revenues in the region of 350 billion baht – out of fear that the ill feeling it creates among tourists is damaging to Thailand’s image as a travel destination. There are also concerns that the packages produce limited benefits for Thailand’s own tourist industry, given that much of the profit generated apparently ends up overseas.
Government spokesman Maj Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd announced on Sunday that, as a result of numerous complaints received in relation to the practices, authorities are planning to advise state and tourism bodies in countries including China, South Korea and Russia of prices considered reasonable for such tours. He added that packages sold for less than these approved rates ‘should be banned’.
The move against ‘zero dollar’ packages coincides with increasingly vocal support on the government’s part for tourist authorities to attract more high-spending ‘quality’ tourists. Calls for a move in this direction have been heard for many years but with little apparently being achieved, and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is frequently criticised for its aggressive pursuit of ever higher tourist arrival numbers.
Indeed, netizens have criticised the government agency for having initially spearheaded the promotion of Thailand as a destination for mass-market Chinese package tourists in particular, of which the emergence of the now controversial low-cost prepaid trips is seen as a major consequence. Others have claimed that the root of the problem lies closer to home, in the numerous scams foreign tourists are regularly reported to suffer at the hands of individuals and companies in the Thai tourist industry.
Claiming that ‘as long as they can expect to be cheated by Thais’ it is understandable that tourists feel more confident trusting guides of their own nationality, even if they also end up overcharging them, netizens argued that ‘Thailand’s image would improve tremendously if the Thai authorities would act against the Thais who try to overcharge tourist [sic]’.
In 2015, the TAT ran an ongoing promotion to reward unsuspecting tourists arriving at airports with free travel and other prizes, to mark each benchmark towards its annual arrivals target. But Sansern insisted that, while action against ‘zero dollar’ tours may initially cause a drop in tourist arrival numbers, ‘the focus is on quality, not quantity’.
He also added that the military government feared the problem would remain unresolved unless action was taken under its own administration, claiming that ‘most big Thai operators benefiting from [the practice] are close to political groups’ who are expected to return to power when civilian rule is reinstated.