Thailand’s tourism officials are looking at introducing compulsory travel insurance for international visitors in the near future, especially as a recent spate of accidents involving tourists have cast the spotlight on the country’s safety and security records.
Surging visitor numbers into Thailand has intensified the challenge of unpaid medical treatment fees racked up by foreign visitors while vacationing in the country, Thailand’s minister of tourism and sports Weerasak Kowsurat shared in a recent interview with TTG Asia.
“I’m introducing a new legislation, probably within (this year or next), to require self insurance for all arrivals into Thailand – it will be one or two dollars more for each person,” said Weerasak.
“This common pool of money will be used to buy one insurance policy (to cover all international visitors),” he added. “We are barred by the law to use our budget to buy insurance policies for international arrivals.
“If travellers want to get involved in more challenging activities, like climbing mountains or diving in the sea, I’ll put into law to make sure service operators stop them from entering into the activity unless they buy the second level of insurance. And if they’re driving any vehicles, they will need another kind of insurance.”
The proposed mandatory travel insurance policy has received positive reception from tour operators and agents, although it has opened up questions on how the requirement will be implemented.
Destination Asia Thailand, general manager, Philip Wigglesworth, said: “(Travel insurance) should be compulsory for each visitor so as not to be a burden on the visiting country. We all have to be responsible visitors and most reputable travel insurance suppliers already offer basic cover for low-risk activities.
“However, for what we would consider extreme sports, there should be a travel insurance supplement to ensure that the traveller is fully covered for all risks.”
Sharing similar sentiments, David Kevan, partner and product person at UK-based Chic Locations, expects most UK clients arriving into Thailand to have comprehensive insurance including medical. Most of these policies would exclude activities like rock climbing, sea and sky diving, and ziplining, and therefore he suggested that the mandatory insurance to be included within the activity prices.
He said: “(The Thai authorities should) make it mandatory for all arriving clients to have comprehensive insurance; if not, (visitors) have to buy a local policy upon arrival – it becomes a condition of entry.”
Although Kevan expects possible “short-term” issues in implementation, the policy roll-out is likely to be “seamless” once clients become fully aware of the stipulation.
“Alternatively, increase the departure tax from Thailand to pay for the insurance for incoming clients, (similar to what Japan has done),” he suggested. “(The funds collected) will all end up in the same pot.”
Trade members are also urging for better transport safety in the country. Said Addie Hirunkate, managing director, Destination Asia Thailand: “I believe self-insurance is a good move overall, though I’d like to also see the Thai authorities place more focus on transportation standards. The regulation of boats, vans and coaches needs to be enforced to a higher degree.”