Furious Thai tourists demand travel refunds

67 travelers to South Korea denied entry

Pedestrians cross a road in Seoul’s Gangnam district on August 12. (Photo: AFP)

Holidays in South Korea have been disrupted after 67 Thai tourists lodged complaints with the Department of Tourism, urging tour operators to provide them with refunds totaling 1.4 million baht after they were denied the entry into the country

Jaturon Phakdeewanit, deputy director general of the Department of Tourism, said the complaints were under investigation. Only two vacationers bought their trips directly from a large wholesale company, while the rest transacted with 15 retail companies.

Initial investigation indicated that three of the companies were unlicensed businesses, while one tourism company did not appear in any kind of business register.

After receiving complaints between August 5 and 17, the department found that most tourists said they did not receive a refund for their tour package even though they were unable to make the trip due to the denial of ‘entrance, or that the tourist companies confiscated 10,000 euros. baht deposit which was meant to be a guarantee that the tourists would not seek to work illegally upon their arrival.

Next week the department will meet with tour operators and ask them to declare their actual operating costs in order to return the fees to customers.

Jaturon said tourism companies must be responsible for a refund after deducting all necessary costs.

However, if there are additional costs as a result of flight changes, or tour companies have had to allocate new return flights after being denied entry at immigration, operators may deduct the airfare from package before refunding to customers.

Jaturon said the cost of round-trip flights, which must be arranged immediately, would normally be more expensive than advance bookings.

For example, if the incident happened on Jeju Island, tour companies must charter a plane to bring passengers back if there are not enough seats available on scheduled flights.

“We believe that all companies will follow the rules and compensate tourists because any wrongdoing would cause them difficulties in extending their license or being blacklisted by the department so that they could not continue the business in the long term,” Jaturon said.

However, the department agreed that it is difficult to trace tour companies that deliberately accompany illegal workers abroad by placing them in regular tour groups, as most of them are unregistered companies.

The department will focus on first investigating those unlicensed companies to see if there are any irregularities in their businesses, and will work with the Ministry of Labor to resolve the issue.

Currently, there are 3,486 outbound tourism companies registered with the department.

As part of its pandemic relief measures, the Department of Tourism reduced the size of the registered deposit by 70% of the total cost of 200,000 baht.

Charoen Wangananont, president of the Association of Travel Agents of Thailand, said sales of outbound packages to South Korea had fallen sharply in the past week after more tourists were unable to receive refunds from tour companies.

Some tourists also want to refrain from traveling for a while as they worry about being denied entry and losing money.

Charoen said the wholesale company under investigation is operating very cheap tour packages, which resemble the famous zero-dollar tours offered to Chinese tourists in recent years.

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