Update April 27: Program to resume May 17; TAT Gov. Yuthasak feeling ‘positive’ people will be ready to travel again soon after.
A program to stimulate domestic travel through cash rebates will return in May with more safeguards to prevent the abuses which led to nearly THB2 billion in fraud.
Krung Thai Bank, which manages the Rao Tiow Duay Gan program, will require users to authenticate their identities using facial recognition in its upgraded smartphone app to prevent the fraud perpetrated by travel agents in collusion with participating hotels and restaurants, according tourism authority head Yuthasak Supasorn.
The government plans to reintroduce the program; which launched in July to subsidize hotel stays, air travel and spending; with funds to partially reimburse travelers for two million nights of hotel stays.
Among other changes, travelers will also have to book their accommodations at least a week in advance.
The daily e-vouchers available to spend on some participating food, services and attractions will be a flat THB600 per day instead of paying more on some days.
Officials also revised the benefits on daily e-voucher to THB600 flat on every destination and day of traveling to use for food, services and attraction entrance fees.
Yuthasak said no new public funds would be required as the program would use THB5.7 billion leftover from the original THB22.4 billion budgeted. The subsidies will be available for Thai nationals 20 and up who travel to destinations outside their registered home provinces through August.
The program was suspended last month after its quota of hotel stays were used up.
Yuthasak did not say whether other aspects of the program would stay the same. Prior to being suspended, qualifying travelers could get reimbursed 40% for up to 15 nights of hotel stays capped at THB3,000 per night. Similar rebates cover 40% of airline tickets capped at THB2,000, or THB3,000 for travel to tourism-reliant provinces feeling the most economic pain: Phuket, Krabi, Phang Nga, Songkhla, Surat Thani, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
While it went little used in its first months, the program eventually became plagued by fraud as hotels, restaurants and vendors colluded on bogus bookings, spending and other ways to collect the rebates without any money being spent. Altogether, that fraud is estimated to have reached nearly THB1.7 billion (US$54.5 million), or 7.6% of the program’s funds.