PHUKET: Recent comments from Weerasak Kowsurat of the Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) caught my eye, and could have profound repercussions for Thailand’s yacht charter industry. The following is excerpted from a December 23 article in The Nation:

“TCEB chairman of the board Weerasak Kowsurat said … providing MICE visas and MICE work permits to business travellers … could attract more events, including huge exhibitions from overseas. Currently, many MICE travellers are required to submit documents to get a work permit before being allowed to enter the Kingdom to participate in an event.”

At first glance, this seems to be just another idea from a well-meaning government agency, but after deeper thought this could set the foundation for something akin to a crew visa for international sailors.

In previous columns I’ve written about the Thai government’s drive to attract more superyachts. The owner of a foreign-flagged superyacht of 30 meters or more can purchase a 12-month licence to legally charter in Thai waters. This licence has already been introduced, but the problem of visas for the crew still remains. Those who arrive without a visa can get a 30-day tourist visa on arrival and extend it in country, before having to leave and re-enter. If you purchase a visa overseas then you may be eligible for a 60-day tourist visa.

The problem, however, concerns both the length and type of visa.

While the Marine Department is aware of this issue, it is the responsibility of Immigration, and I doubt it’s on their priority list.

With the TCEB raising concerns about the same issue, perhaps there is some light at the end of this tunnel. Even more interesting is their reference to work permits – something that has not been talked about by the Marine Department. Work permits are the responsibility of the Labor Department and there needs to be a company sponsoring the applicant, a suitable visa and a whole raft of supporting documents just to apply for one.

While the Marine Department has openly acknowledged visa issues and is genuinely attempting to find a solution, nothing has been said about work permit issues yet.

Let’s hope the powers-that-be open inter-departmental dialogue. Perhaps it’s time the Ministry of Tourism and Sports looks at the big picture; rather than cherry picking a few big ticket items and some low-hanging fruit (like the superyacht licence), a more holistic view could help generate more far-reaching benefits for all.

Duncan Worthington is a long time Phuket resident and through Infinity Communications (www. consults to leading consumer brands, hospitality and marine clients in Thailand. In his ‘spare time’ he runs the marine portal #OnDeckPhuket

— Duncan Worthington