Low-cost tour agencies evade crackdown net

Chinese tourists visit Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall in Bangkok. Thanarak Khunton

More than 100 online tour operators in China are still selling cheap tour packages to Thailand despite the two countries’ efforts to solve the zero-dollar tour problem.

The government’s crackdown on zero-dollar tours last October scared off several operators from getting involved in illegal tour operations. But the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA) and the Professional Tourist Guide Association of Thailand say they have observed many operators, mostly in China, continuing to sell low-priced tour packages online.

“Some are still violating the agreement made by the two countries to crack down on zero-dollar tours,” said ATTA president Vichit Prakobgosol. “This unfair trade could cause huge damage to the Thailand’s image.”

He said the tour operators aim to bring clients to Thailand over the next eight to nine months. They attempt to sell packages lower than a minimum price at 1,000 baht per person per day.

“Travel operators sell cheap packages and will later charge about 9,000-10,000 baht from each tourist while they are in Thailand,” Mr Vichit said. “It is expected that a lot of Chinese tourists will be treated unfairly and risk being abandoned if they don’t pay for expensive optional programmes.”

Wirote Sitaprasertnand, president of the tourist guide association, said about half of the Chinese tourists travelling to Thailand use travel companies. Each tour company touts intensive promotions to lure customers.

He said a few hundred tour companies involved in the Chinese tourist market are trying to encourage tourists by using cheap packages especially during peak periods falling twice a year.

“More victims are likely to be seen here during the peak periods for the China market, Chinese New Year in late January-early February, and the National Holidays known as the Golden Week in October,” Mr Wirote said.

“If we can prevent the selling of zero-dollar tours ahead of the high season, there should not be a big problem.”

According to the ATTA, more than 10,000 travel companies in China are involved in outbound travel. Of the total, 1,000 firms are supplying tourists to Southeast Asia including Thailand and 100 of them are online operators.

“The ATTA wants the government to be aware they they are selling zero tours again. If it is unable to deal with the problem, the zero-dollar tour problem can’t be truly solved,” Mr Vichit said.

The ATTA predicts Thailand will receive 9.5 million Chinese tourists this year.

Meanwhile, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) plans to organise road shows to Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou where online Thai tourism operators can meet 10 major Chinese websites to discuss ways to cooperate.

The TAT also works with the Online Tourism Club to control cheap tour packages sold by online tour operators in China and Thailand.

Last year, 8.8 million Chinese travelled to Thailand, representing 27% of total foreign arrivals. The Chinese market contributed 480 billion baht to the economy. The TAT expects to welcome 9.5 million Chinese tourists this year, worth nearly 500 billion baht.

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