Thailand’s ‘zero-dollar’ tour packages weigh on travel sector despite crackdown

Thailand’s travel sector is feeling the squeeze from the resurgence of “zero dollar” tour packages previously aimed at Chinese visitors, as operators target Russian and Indian holidaymakers despite a crackdown on the shady practice.

The tours involve Chinese visitors paying Thai-based companies low prices for their package holiday. But once in the Southeast Asian nation, they are often pressured into buying overpriced food, accommodation and gifts.

The government said the low-budget trips had tarnished Thailand’s image and police had frequently conducted enforcement blitzes to rein in the tours.

But those efforts do not seem to have produced the desired results, with foreigners accused of engaging in unsustainable price wars that threaten to inflict economic losses on local travel firms.

Tourists gather in front of a shopping centre in Bangkok. Photo: EPA-EFE

The Association of Thai Travel Agents said more foreign nationals were offering zero-dollar deals by using locals as proxies for their illegal business.

Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, president of the group, said licensed Thai operators were no match for their unauthorised counterparts who entice tourists with ultra-cheap packages and recoup the losses by forcing them to buy expensive products from particular shops.

“This is the worst operating environment I’ve encountered in my entire life working in the tour business,” Sisdivachr said.

He added the notorious strategy, once used to fleece Chinese tourists, has now been replicated to lure Russians and Indians.


Thailand rolls out red carpet for Chinese tourists on visa-free scheme

Thailand rolls out red carpet for Chinese tourists on visa-free scheme

Sisdivachr also raised the matter with Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin last week, saying the tactics could wipe out competition and monopolise the tourism industry that accounts for about 12 per cent of the kingdom’s gross domestic product.

He said the zero-dollar scheme tainted the kingdom’s travel reputation as guests are strong-armed into paying for services they do not want and it does not contribute to the public coffers because the illicit companies dodge tax, The Bangkok Post reported.

“The longer this kind of business persists, the worse the Thai tourism industry will become,” Sisdivachr said.

He said many licensed Thai agents have revamped their business by catering to quality travellers and called on the government to do more by disbanding the trade.

Thailand’s world-famous Maya Bay in Koh Phi Phi. Thailand’s beaches have drawn more than 9 million foreign visitors in the first quarter of the year. Photo: dpa

Thailand’s sandy beaches have drawn more than 9 million foreign visitors in the first quarter of the year, and the tourism ministry expects to attract about 36 million travellers by the end of this year.

More than 3 million Russian and Indian tourists visited Thailand last year.

In 2022, the Supreme Court quashed charges against seven people accused of operating the country’s biggest zero-dollar tour ring.

The court said the scheme featured services popular with Chinese travellers and were not pricey. It added they were not overcharged and the arrangement did not undercut competition or hurt the industry.


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