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Thai Tourism Minister says 'Visa, yacht-charter laws need to change'

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Changes in visa and chartering legislation to secure the island’s position as the top yachting destination in the region are necessary, Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul told the Phuket Gazette in an exclusive interview on Tuesday. 'Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha wants to make Thailand a world-class hub for yachts and cruise boats in Southeast Asia – and we think Phuket is ready for that,' Minister Kobkarn said. 'I am aware that Thailand has to change some regulations to develop our tourism in response to heightened competition from other yachting destinations in the region.'

Following a meeting on January 16 with Governor Nisit Jansomwong and Gulu Lalvani, Owner and Chairman of the Royal Phuket Marina, Ms Kobkarn vowed to raise concerns voiced about yacht crew visas and the chartering of foreign-flagged superyachts at a Cabinet meeting slated to take place in early February. Current legislation allows boats entering Thai waters to remain for six months. However, captains and crew receive visas on arrival or entry on visa-exemption status, which allow stays of only up to 30 days.

'I will talk [with Cabinet members] about what we can do concerning yacht crew visas. Actually, the government has been talking about [making changes to] other types of visas that would be best for the country,' Ms Kobkarn said. 'I give my full support to tourism, but there are of course internal security and safety measures that must be considered. The Minister of Foreign Affairs is in charge of visas, so, as you can see, this is beyond my authority to approve.'

Mr Lalvani noted during their discussion that though Phuket is 'miles ahead' of Langkawi, Malaysia, as a yachting destination, current legislation was a barrier for foreigners wanting to base their superyachts and megayachts in Phuket. 'People who own yachts are above-average wealthy individuals, which is the kind of tourist we want to attract to Phuket,' Mr Lalvani told the Gazette. 'We have enough volume, what we need now is people with money who can support the economy.' Foreigners who own foreign-flagged yachts in Thailand must register them in the Kingdom and pay 7% VAT to charter them – a stark contrast to the warm welcome offered by Langkawi, Mr Lalvani pointed out.

'One of the reasons Phuket is among the best destinations in the world is because people can go boating all year round,' Mr Lalvani said. 'Even in the peak of the rainy season, there is still beautiful sailing on the east coast – the water is very calm and pleasurable for boating, while the west coast is less protected from May through September. My aim is to make [Phuket] like the Riviera in the south of France; don’t just stay at a beautiful hotel, but charter a luxury yacht for a week or two. Allowing foreigners to charter their yachts will bring Thailand more tourists and establish the island as a yachting destination on a par with the rest of the world, as it will allow wealthy tourists a larger choice of luxury yachts to choose from.'

 

http://www.sail-world.com/Asia/Thai-Tourism-Minister-says-Visa,-yacht-charter-laws-need-to-change/131089

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