Thailand Announces a New Visitor Fee

The fee will subsidize high-value and sustainable tourism projects in Thailand

Tourist on empty Thailand beach
Tourist on empty Thailand beach.

Saowakhon Brown/Getty Images

To help its battered tourism sector recover, the government of Thailand will impose a tourism fee on visitors in April.

The fee amounts to 300 baht (about $9) per visitor—the Thai government hopes the total profit gained from international tourism will add up to 800 billion baht ($23.97 billion) for all of 2022, assuming between five and 15 million foreign tourists visit this year.

The money will go to a "tourism transformation fund" that will subsidize high-value and sustainable tourism projects that might "transform" the Thai tourism industry.

The pricey entrance fee goes hand-in-hand with Thailand's present attempt to ditch its former backpacker appeal in favor of a high-end approach that targets big spenders. The extra baht, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Governor Yuthasak Supasorn told the Bangkok Post, "won't have an impact on tourists as we want to focus on the quality market."

Supasorn explained that the fund will not defray the pandemic's immediate financial effects but will be used to fund long-term local economic growth. The TAT governor expects to fund projects alongside the private sector, with the transformation fund pitching in half or more of the capital needed.

The fund is expected to prioritize social enterprises or community enterprises that help the government pivot its tourism towards high value and green tourism. "The projects should be co-creations, and the government should use the fund to support projects that can create an economic impact," Supasorn explained.

Transformation for Thailand's tourism may be long overdue. Parts of the country have become case studies in the ill effects of overtourism, ranging from the annoyance caused by chattering tourists in Bangkok's Wat Paknam to the massive coral massacre caused by 5,000 daily visitors in Maya Bay.

Maya Bay, which closed in June 2018, recently reopened with new stipulations put in place to maintain its ecosystem. In 2020, Thailand's national parks authority announced that it would close its national parks for two to three months every year to protect its wildlife.

Maya Bay, Thailand, prior to closure in 2018
 Hannares/Getty Images

COVID-19's forced reset on Thailand's tourism industry may have hit the country's balance sheet particularly hard but has also given local authorities the space to rethink their priorities.

"Instead of relying on 40 million tourists to generate two trillion baht in revenue, we will turn to focus on quality tourists who can spend more," explained Deputy Prime Minister and Energy Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow. "This will be good for the country's environment and natural resources."

As of Jan. 11, fully vaccinated international visitors must undergo a seven-day quarantine in a "Sandbox destination"—either Phuket, Krabi, Phang Nga, or Surat Thani (Koh Samui, Ko Phangan, and Ko Tao only)—before being allowed to journey to the rest of Thailand. Those who are not vaccinated will instead be required to quarantine for 10 days in an approved hotel.

According to the TAT, some 42,000 international travelers visited Phuket from July 1 to Oct. 5, generating over two billion baht ($59 million) in tourism revenue. It's a drop in the bucket compared to 2019's take of 442 billion baht ($13 billion) for Phuket alone; whether the pivot to high-end tourism will reach similar heights at less cost to the environment remains anyone's guess.