Is Thailand’s tourism ready to tackle crime and safety problems?

The security upgrade forum in session with Tanes Petsuwan, TAT deputy governor for marketing communications (photo credit: TAT)

Thailand says it is ready to undertake “a sweeping overhaul of all the country’s safety and security measures relevant to the travel and tourism industry”, and hopes to reduce threats to tourists including when it comes to crime.

At a half-day forum convened last week to analyse key issues and brainstorm ideas to enhance security, Weerasak Kowsurat, minister of tourism and sports, said: “Thailand has recently experienced numerous incidents impacting the safety and security of both Thais and foreign tourists. This has had a negative impact on the image of tourism and could potentially impact the tourist atmosphere of the country.

“In the short term, it could lead to cancellation of travel bookings. In the long term, it could lead to a lack of confidence in the service business, especially in relation to the safety and security of life and property of tourists.”

The security upgrade forum in session with Tanes Petsuwan, TAT deputy governor for marketing communications (photo credit: TAT)

This comes on the back of Chinese president Xi Jinping calling on Thai authorities to do everything possible to ensure safety and security for all visitors, not just those from China, following a tragic boat accident that claimed the lives of 47 Chinese tourists.

But this was not the first time a foreign government has stepped in in response to events surrounding tourist safety in Thailand. In 2014, the British government voiced concern over Thai authorities’ investigation of a high-profile murder case of two British tourists in Koh Tao. The diving destination has been coined “death island” due to the many foreigner deaths reported to have occurred there, including as recently as last month.

Two Burmese nationals were convicted of the crime, sparking outrage around the world. International actors such as human rights NGOs and the media continue to cry foul, believing the suspects to have been scapegoated to protect local mafia and tourism interests. Authorities have been criticised for letting threats to tourists persist by sweeping the issue of crime under the rug.

While Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor Yuthasak Supasorn stated that “the overall goal is to reduce the number of accidents, crime and threats to the life and property of tourists”, the focus for now seems to be on accidents rather than crime and corruption.

According to a TAT statement statement, the measures and recommended actions generated by the forum would be divided into: preparation measures, crisis management measures, post-crisis relief measures. It is these measures that will be communicated to the National Tourism Policy Board and the Cabinet to approve for further action by the relevant agencies.

“For sure, we can launch another marketing campaign based on discounted rates, but it is more important to win the hearts of the Chinese people by showing them that we are truly sorry for the accident and that we are serious about fixing the problem that caused it,” the tourism minister said at the event themed Travel around Thailand, Safe Everywhere.

More than 150 participants from the country attended the half-day forum presided over by Weerasak. Among them were representatives of private and public sector associations.

Already, Thailand is acting to enforce more stringent boat safety measures. According to TAT, the captain and helmsman must register each boat’s name and specification, plus the exact number of passengers and tour route must be submitted to the responsible officials including Phuket’s Marine Office, Tourist Police and Provincial Administrator before leaving port each time.

TAT also shared that effective immediately, Thai boat operators will be swiftly punished with the maximum penalty that the law affords if found in violation of the new laws related to marine tourism.

Moreover, blueprints of boats are required to be inspected by officials and be officially authorised. In case of any incident, the officer who authorised the boat will also face charges if the vessel in question is found not to be up to standard.

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