The increasing number of crimes targeting foreign tourists will seriously damage the image of Thailand's tourism industry unless the state beefs up preventive measures.
Police mascots were introduced in the tourist spots of Bangkok late last year. The number of crimes against tourists has increased in recent weeks. PATIPAT JANTHONG
Although it is too early to assess whether foreign visitors will stay away because of notorious incidents, some observers believe the government has to work harder if it wants to achieve its ultimate goal of earning 2 trillion baht from tourism annually by 2015.
The public wants more effective preventive measures and harsher punishments after many serious crimes against foreigners, particularly the rape and robbery of two Russian tourists in Pattaya on Dec 26.
"Both the police and tourist police have tried their best to help people, but the number of visitors is rising strongly and greatly outpacing the number of officers," said Pol Lt Col Aroon Promphan, the chief inspector of Pattaya's Tourist Police.
Russians now account for the largest group of foreign tourists in Pattaya.
The number of Russian tourists in Thailand increased from 300,000 in 2009 to more than 1.2 million last year. The figure is expected to reach 1.5 million this year.
"The Tourist Police in Pattaya comprises a force of about 150 officers combined with 50 foreign volunteers," Pol Lt Col Aroon said.
He said the rape case had prompted organisations including the Russian embassy to express concern.
The government has agreed to beef up preventive measures.
More tourist checkpoints and surveillance cameras have been placed in high-risk areas, while useful information including the hotline number 1155 has been made known to tourists in case they have any emergencies or problems.
Police have asked hotels to strengthen security measures to protect clients and the reputation of the tourism industry.
Peerasak Momin, who oversees training at the Hilton Pattaya Hotel, said guests will be advised to stay away from dangerous places and take care when travelling in cities.
Big international hotels owned by Hilton, Marriott or Sheraton have few problems thanks to their tight security measures, he said.
An operator of a small hotel in Surat Thani province said most tourists are aware that most crimes take place at popular destinations such as Pattaya, Phuket and Koh Samui in line with their high number of visitors, especially during high season.
Foreign visitors see the root of the problem as education and unemployment _ if the government provides people with permanent jobs, these issues might not occur frequently, said the operator.
The Tourism and Sports Ministry reports the number of foreign tourists for 2012 at 22.3 million, above the target of 21 million.
These foreign travellers generated revenue of 960 billion baht, far higher than the 500 billion baht earned from local tourists.
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Writer: Yotsawadee Jarungjirakiat