Planning a trip to Thailand next year? You might want to budget for an extra 500 baht ($16.04) - you may need it just to get in the country.
According to a Bangkok Post report Sunday, the Thai government is debating charging foreigners the entry fee in an effort to crack down on those who overstay visas, and to increase the quality of tourists visiting the country.
"Now is the time for us to have quality tourists. It's not as if inbound tour operators won't organize tours for foreign tourists to come to the country because of the entry fees," said Public Health Minister Pradit Sintavanarong.
Thailand's tourism industry, however, isn't pleased with the idea.
Sitdiwat Cheevarattanaporn, chairman of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, said the plan "will affect the tourism industry, both in the short run and the long run, because tourists will feel bad about Thailand and they may feel they are being cheated."
Porntip Hirunket, vice chair of Thailand's tourism council, told the Bangkok Post the proposed entry fees would discourage tourists from visiting, and that authorities should enforce already-existing laws and improve tourist screening instead.
If approved, the fee would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, although a delay until mid-January is possible to avoid confusing tourists during one of the country's busiest travel seasons.
Under the proposed plan, foreigners arriving to Thailand via plane would pay 500 baht, while those arriving by land would pay 30 baht (96 cents) per day. Money from the fees would go to Thailand's immigration bureau and tourism, health and foreign affairs ministries.
Phuket's director of public health, Kajohnsak Kaewjarus, told Phuket Wan Tourism News he feels the entry fee could benefit locals and tourists alike.
''A share of the fee could lift living standards and health care across Phuket,'' he said. ''It would be good for people who live on the island as well as for visitors.''