As the tourist boat accident in Phuket last week made global headlines, particularly in the Chinese social media world, and highlighted tourist safety issues in Thailand, tour operators in the country are awaiting short-term fallout on the Chinese inbound sector although how the incident would play out in the long term is still very much in the air.
Adith Chairattananon, honorary secretary general of Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA) and president of Golden Discovery Express, said some tour operators selling tour packages in China have ceased sales of tour packages to Phuket as well as marketing activities related to maritime tours.
But Adith believes that the Chinese inbound sector will be moderately affected by the accident in Phuket, albeit only in the short term.
ATTA president Vichit Prakobgosol, who is also managing director of CCT Express, shares the opinion that the impact on Thailand’s tourism will not be too severe, with a slight decrease in the numbers of Chinese travellers within the next two weeks a likely scenario.
He explained that only a portion of Chinese inbound tourism to Thailand involves travelling by boat, and that the country offers other areas for discovery including the northern and north-eastern regions.
Chotechuang Soorangura, associate managing director of NS Travel & Tours, believes that any form of accident along with inefficient disaster management tends to lower the safety credibility of a destination.
In this case, the situation is made worse by the Thai authorities trying to scapegoat nominee tour operators as a quick fix for the country’s image.
“Surely, in the short term the number of Chinese tourists will be lower than the previous years but (whether there’s any impact) in the long run depends on how the government manages and solves the safety problem for tourists,” Chotechuang remarked.
“Regarding the nominee tour operators issue, I believe that it is very difficult for the government to get rid of them as (they are part of the) market mechanism. The best way is to collect more tax from them or find ways to (regulate and manage the) group instead.”
Meanwhile, Vichit suggests that Thai authorities brings the party/parties responsible to justice and issue a decisive measure to prevent similar incidents in the future, such as law to prohibit boats from sailing off in bad weather.
At press time, 46 bodies have been recovered. Before it capsized, Phoenix had been carrying 89 people, counting tourists, guides and crew.