Pradit Sintavanarong, Thailand's Public Health Minister, told the Bangkok Post on Monday that his ministry had reached an agreement with the Ministry of Tourism and Sports and the Royal Thai Police to implement the 'tourist tax', arguing that the extra charge would increase the number of high-value visitors to the country.
"Now is the time for us to have quality tourists. It's not as if inbound tour operators won't organise tours for foreign tourists to come to the country because of the entry fees," the health minister said.
The Health Ministry's deputy permanent secretary, Charnvit Phrathep, further informed the Australian Associated Press that the 500-baht fee would apply only to air arrivals, while tourists entering by land would pay a fee of around 30 baht ($0.97) per day.
"In the longer term it (the levy) will add value to the tourism industry," said Charnvit. "We think most foreigners can afford 500 baht and if they come here and have a heart attack they will be happy to know they can get treatment at the nearest hospital with no questions asked."
Charnvit highlighted that foreign tourists cost the state nearly 700 million baht ($22.59 million) in unpaid medical bills per year.
"Foreign tourists who have accidents or fall sick in Thailand seek treatment at our hospitals but then can't pay their bills... We try to send the bills on to the respective embassies but they always say they have no budgets," Charnvit lamented.
The Bangkok Post also noted that scheme would deter foreigners from staying in the country after their visas have expired. There are about 100,000 foreigners in Thailand whose visas have expired but they refuse to leave the country, the report said.
Pradit Sintavanarong expects the new entry charge could kick off in Mid-January. The government had initially planned to start implementing the 'tourist tax' from January 1st, but decided that there would be too many tourists entering the country at that time and they might get confused.
In a statement, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) stressed that it would still be open to other proposals to settle the issue of unpaid medical bills. One possible alternative could be the introduction of compulsory travel insurance for tourists entering the country.
Meanwhile, travel agents and hotel groups expressed opposition to the plan.
"The plan will affect the tourism industry, both in the short run and the long run, because tourists will feel bad about Thailand and they may feel they are being cheated," said Sitdiwat Cheevarattanaporn, chairman of the Association of Thai Travel Agents.
"If Thailand does something strange like this, there could be a long-term negative impact on the whole industry," added Samphan Panphat, adviser to the Thai Hotels Association.
Thailand attracted 22 million tourists last year, earning the country $US32 billion ($33 billion) in foreign exchange revenues.