Thailand offers tourists free insurance

/ Source: The Associated Press

Thailand is continuing to offer insurance coverage worth $10,000 to anyone harmed in riots and demonstrations as it seeks to attract tourists scared off by political turmoil, officials say.

Other carrots range from a waiver on all visa fees to discounts on airline landing fees.

"The measures are to support the tourism industry. The situation has been recovering but the businesses still need help," said Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn earlier this week.

Thailand has been plagued by political conflict since the ouster of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a 2006 military coup. More demonstrations are scheduled by his supporters for mid-March.

In 2009, the number of tourists dropped to 14.1 million, an 8 percent decrease from the previous year while revenue shrank to 527 billion baht ($16 billion), a 3 percent drop from 2008. Tourism is the country's number one foreign currency earner.

The free insurance coverage, along with other tourism stimulus measures, was initially put in place after the seizure of Bangkok's two airports in late 2008. Hundreds of thousands of tourists were stranded in the country.

Tourism and Sports Ministry spokesman Vachara Kannikar said the $10,000 coverage has been extended until the end of the year and applies to any foreign visitor who experiences loss or damage from political upheavals, including death, injury or disability. Victims will also receive free medical treatment and a daily $1,000 in compensation if hospitalized for more than 10 days.

Tourists who face travel delays because of riots or demonstrations will be given $100 per day. But this amount and the hospital stay cannot exceed a total of $10,000.

Tourists of all nationalities will also have their visa fees waived until March 2011, Vachara said, adding this may become a permanent policy.

Airlines will enjoy a 10 percent discount for parking fees and a 20 percent drop for landing fees through the end of 2010, Vachara said. Electricity bills for hotels are also being discounted.