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Protect the goose that lays Thailand's golden egg
Publication Date : 19-09-2013
Millions of people consider Thailand a tourist paradise. The number of foreign tourists coming to Thailand has been on a constant increase --- 19.2 million in 2011, 22.3 million last year and 17.4 million in the first eight months of this year.
Almost 1 trillion baht (US$31.55 billion) in tourist revenue is now earned every year, and tourism is among Thailand's highest-earning sectors.
However, tourist safety has become a big concern for the governments of countries whose nationals form a sizeable share of the visitors to Thailand, including China and member-nations of the European Union.
There has been a string of recent cases of theft and violence against tourists, in addition to drowning deaths off beaches and deaths in road and boat accidents. In July two American men were killed in separate disputes with local people. One was stabbed to death by a taxi driver in Bangkok, the other by three musicians in Phuket when he would not stop singing. In August two Chinese men died and three others were injured when their speedboat struck an anchored vessel in Pattaya.
Lack of security and safety measures have been blamed for numerous tragic deaths of foreign tourists. Many of these incidents and accidents could have been avoided through the simple enforcement of existing rules and regulations.
Many operators of tourist-related businesses ignore safety precautions. People can rent snorkel equipment and boats without having to show any competence at all. Vehicles and boats are loaded far beyond their capacity with tourists.
The authorities appear to be aware of Thailand's worsening record on tourist safety. Tourism and Sports Minister Somsak Pureesrisak said safety was the top priority in regaining traveller confidence following the spate of high-profile cases of violent crime against tourists. "Tourist safety is now on the national agenda, in particular a crackdown on mafia gangs in Phuket and Pattaya. Gangsters are now involved in enterprises that directly affect tourists, such as jet-skis and taxis," he said.
Provincial courts in many key tourist destinations have set up Tourist Protection Sections to fast-track such cases. The one in Pattaya has resolved its first case, demanding compensation for the families of the Chinese tourists killed in the speedboat accident. There are other such courts in Phuket, Samui, Chiang Mai, Krabi and Bangkok. Wirat Chinwinigkul, secretary-general of the Office of the Judiciary, said the tourist court has received "great feedback".
The tourist court can help make foreign visitors feel assured that their problems will be taken cared of by the justice system without delay. However, it would be better to first ensure that laws, rules, regulations and safety precautions are enforced in order to prevent problems from happening in the first place.
A lot of the problems in tourist safety boil down to the Thai authorities' lax law enforcement - or none at all in some cases. Tourist-related businesses should be given incentives to require proof of insurance or competence when tourists rent vehicles or potentially dangerous equipment. This might help curb the accident and death rates. There should also be greater oversight over the maintenance of buses and trains and the work-shifts of bus- and boat-drivers in order to avoid accidents.