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Thai visa policy set to benefit Cambodia

Thailand's offer of free three-month visas will boost domestic tourism, minister says

THAILAND'S offer to allow free three-month tourist visas will bring more visitors to Cambodia, Minister of Tourism Thong Khon told the Post Sunday.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced the fee exemption during a speech last week in Bangkok that was part of the ongoing "Amazing Thailand - Amazing Value" tourism campaign.

The exemption is scheduled to begin Friday and last until June 4.

Thong Khon said he believed the exemption would attract more visitors to Cambodia because Thailand is a major feeder market for Cambodia's tourists.

"If Thailand succeeds with this program, [Cambodia] will also benefit because they will have a lot of tourists coming to the country," he said.

"It will not reduce the number of tourists."  

He noted that the private Tourism Working Group last month proposed a one-year Cambodian visa-fee exemption and that officials from the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Economy and Finance were studying the feasibility of visa exemption.

About two million foreign tourists visit Cambodia each year, with each required to purchase a US$20 tourist visa.

If thailand

succeeds with this program, [Cambodia] will also benefit.

Ang Kim Eang, president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, said he supported the forthcoming Thai fee exemption but said he did not believe it would result in a substantial increase in tourists for Thailand or Cambodia.

He noted that Thailand already offers free visas to residents of 20 countries for stays not exceeding 15 days and to residents of 42 other countries up to 30 days.  

"I think this promotion will not really benefit their tourism industry," he said.

In his speech last week, Abhisit said officials were "pleased to see that visitor arrivals are on the upswing again" but lamented the fact that numbers for the first quarter of 2009 were likely to be 30 to 40 percent lower than the same period the previous year.

He attributed this to the global economic crisis and fallout from political turmoil late last year that led to the temporary closure of Bangkok's two airports.  

In a separate speech last week, Santichai Euachongprasit, deputy governor for international marketing at Thailand's Tourism Authority, said tourism totals fell by one percent in 2008, but added that the beginning of 2009 had seen economic conditions worsening.

"There has been a decline in arrivals from key source markets like East Asia," he said.

He pointed to several strategies designed to bolster tourism figures for 2009, including the visa fee exemption and the waiving of airport fees for a period equalling time of the airport closure.

A government-private sector group is working to attract more visitors to the kingdom. Proposals include industry-wide price cuts and measures to boost quality.

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