Park officials and tour operators are at odds over what constitutes ‘fair’ admission charges
Tour operators in southern Thailand are adjusting their business strategies following The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation’s (DNP) announcement that the admission fees to the Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi Phi Marine National Park will maintain its current rates for foreign tourists at 400 baht (US$11.50) for adults and 200 baht for children.
In February, some 500 tourist boats staged a protest at the park to demand a reduction of the admission fees for foreign tourists, citing the high charges as a deterrent for tourists to the destination.
However, DNP officials dismissed the claims and pointed out that foreign visitor numbers to Phi Phi Islands had surged on the contrary, from 435,462 in 2015 to 1.4 million in 2016.
While it seems the park entrance fees are affecting the boat operators, some inbound agents in southern Thailand are feeling the heat too.
Nattakit Lorwitworrawat, managing director of SeaStar Andaman, said foreign tourists are not directly affected by the entrance fees as these charges are usually included in tour packages.
However, the high entrance fees weigh down on tour operation costs for inbound agents amid fiercer market competition. “We try to deal with it by introducing new products or services to our clients so that we can generate more income and survive during this difficult time” Nattakit said.
As well, the Seastar Andaman chief would like DNP to help tour operators to overcome this chronic issue by setting a more moderate price instead.
Worranuch Muangthong, sales manager of Love Andaman, said that its overseas agents had requested for the company to lower its tour package prices to the Phi Phi islands, as European customers – which makes up around 20 per cent of its clientele – are showing a greater concern over the tour prices.
Similarly, Love Andaman has also been affected by the high entrance fees to Similan Islands (500 baht for foreign adults and 300 baht for children), and Worranuch would like the authorities to reduce the admission fees as the facility management and security on these islands still do not reach standards compared with other marine national parks.
“The measure to achieve quality tourism of the DNP is acceptable if the officials call on all tour operators to make an agreement to trade fairly by not (undercutting) tour package prices too much,” Muangthong remarked.
On the other hand, Sasina Kaudelka, general manager of Ancient Thai Travel, told TTG Asia that the entrance fees have not made a great impact on her company but she thinks entrance fees to all national parks in the country should not be raised in the future.
Moreover, she suggests that all tour operators should seek to find a solution together, control quality of services and avoid slashing tour prices. Tour operators should also adjust their business strategy to overcome unexpected obstacles and achieve sustainable business, she urged.
This article was first published in TTG Asia April 2017 issue. To read more, please view our digital edition or click here to subscribe.