In the past the tour operators were responsible for the park fee payment of their guests. Up to now it is the responsibilty of the tour operator to collect the park fees from the tourists and pay them to the rangers on the islands once the boat arrives.
This arrangement proved to be an invitation for “grey area payment” of park fees. The Department of National Parks Thailand (DNP) repeatedly came across the situation, that the visitor numbers didn’t match up with the overall paid park fees. So “special arrangements” between tour operators and the collecting park rangers at the islands seemed to be the common practise. Also the suspicion of false reporting of visitor numbers has been raised year after year. The DNP has now announced that in the park fee payment has to be done correctly and according to the law. On July 1st the DNP invited the operators for a meeting at the Similan National Park headquarters in Thap Lamu to discuss to payment procedures for next travel season. At the moment there are two options in consideration:
1. Payment at Departure
Option one aims to have either each single guest (or the tour operator for all guests) paying the park fees already at the harbours after the amount of passengers have been counted by members of the National Park Authorities. Problem here is, that sometimes the weather conditions prove to be not suitable to travel to the announced destination. So sometimes boats turn around and never reach the Similan Islands or they change their destination on the way and head to an island beeing part of another National Park. Although this doesn’t happen often, but when it happens, it affects several boats (waves and winds are the same for every tourist boat) and could turn out to be an administrative nightmare for the authorities.
2. Individual Payment on the Islands
Option Nr. 2 is currently beeing tested in Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi and basically means that every guest will have to pay the park fees by themselves individuall once they reach the islands. This would provide an accurate count of vistors plus making deals between tour operators and members of the National Park impossible. But it would mean for the vistors to qeue up at a payment point straight after they set foot on one of the beautiful beaches. Also some tour operators have syncronized four to seven boats with 50 guests each so one could end up in a qeue with several hundred people just to pay the park fees.
Currently both discussed options have their advantages and their flaws, so there will be another meeting on July 16th in order to reach to a compromise on this matter. It is the goal of all involved to find a procedure wich can satisfy all three sides, the tourists, the tour operators and the Department for National Parks.