Speedy rescues boost Phuket safety tourism bid
Navy, parks, travel operators join effort
Thailand needs more effective rescue assistance programmes to boost confidence among foreign tourists as well as lower visitor accident rates, says Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul.
"Safety awareness has started in Phuket and this will be extended nationwide to ensure tourist confidence while they are travelling in the country," Mrs Kobkarn said.
Mrs Kobkarn was speaking during a safety demonstration in Phuket last week, which was also attended by Deputy Prime Minister Thanasak Patimaprakorn.
Last year, there were 228 deaths among foreign tourists, with Chinese nationals seeing the largest number of fatalities, well ahead of their European and American counterparts.
Top tourism officials also asked public and private entities in Phuket, Phangnga and Krabi to aid the government's efforts to increase tourist safety. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the Royal Thai Navy and travel operators on the Andaman coast have joined forces in safety practices.
Lifeguards said rescue teams in Phuket are ready to assist injured tourists on land or in the sea. For instance, a boat on fire in the Andaman Sea will get help within 10 minutes of calling, and injured tourists will be transferred to nearby hospitals as quickly as possible.
"Phuket is an international tourist destination but it should also be a safe place. The government is pursuing ambitious plans to increase tourism by placing safety as the top concern and is keen to be a good host," Gen Thanasak said.
The safety demonstration paved the way for Phuket to host its first International Lifeguard Competition scheduled for mid-December this year.
The National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department said it planned to build helipads at all national parks across the country to transfer injured tourists to hospital.
To attract repeat tourists and boost emerging niche segments such as sports and recreation activities in Phuket, local authorities have been taking action to protect visitors from falling prey to activities such as crime and scams. The province has also continued a crackdown on illegal business to gain more quality tourists.
According to the Phuket office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), the island welcomed 13.4 million visitors last year, up from 13.2 million in 2015. Of last year's figures, 9.64 million came from overseas and 3.76 million were domestic tourists. Local and foreign tourists together generated an income of 340 billion baht.
The top 10 countries from which most tourists came were China, Russia, Australia, Germany, Britain, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, France and Sweden respectively.
The province forecasts 13.8 million arrivals for 2017 and 363 billion baht in revenue. China is expected to remain the largest source of tourists for this year.
For the first six months of this year, Phuket had held 13 sports and recreation events that drew many foreigners. Another 19 events are planned for the rest of 2017, including Phuket King's Cup Regatta, Phuketthon and Asia Superyacht Rendezvous.
Additionally, at least 5,584 hotel rooms are expected to come on stream by 2020, according to C9 Hotelworks, a real estate consultant firm.
The company revealed that megaprojects such as the Central Festival expansion, Blu Pearl luxury mall, multiple underpasses and a plan for a light rail project are redefining the broader tourism market.
"The rebound was prompted by the strengthening of the Russian rouble against the baht, and political volatility in the Middle East that redirected Russian tourists to the island during high season," said Bill Barnett, managing director of C9 Hotelworks.
Another factor was the revival in the number of Chinese tourists after the fall last year after crackdowns on zero-dollar tourism scams last year, he added.
Thailand is forecast to welcome 60-80 million foreign visitors a year over the next 15 years.
Sea Star Happy Journey, the operator of speed boat based in Phuket and Phangnga, owned by Nattakit Lorwitworrawat, promised that it would provide tourists active and passive safety measures.
The company is working with major hospitals on the Andaman coast to serve tourists involved in accidents.
Another operator, Love Andaman, which mainly operates sea trips to Myanmar, said it has spare parts and equipment on board, and a reserved boat to carry tourists back to ports in case of incidents.
At the national level, Jaturon Phakdeewanit, director for Tourism Safety and Security Standards Division under the Tourism and Sports Ministry, said it has oversight of 16 tourist assistance centres in Bangkok and 15 other provinces. The stations are manned by about 200 staff members in total, with some fluent in Chinese to cater to the growing China market.
Mr Jaturon said his division has also been working with diving experts from Australia to improve water safety in Phuket to international standards. "We are considering working with the US and England to enhance water safety in other areas in the future."
Earlier, the division organised safety training courses for tourism operators and communities in Phuket, Chiang Mai and Kanchanaburi province.
According to the Department of Tourism, 228 tourists died and 540 were injured in Thailand in 2016. Major causes of tourist death included water accidents (41%), road accidents (22%), medical problems (16%), and suicide (7%).
The deadliest provinces for tourists last year were Chiang Mai, Surat Thani, Phuket, Krabi and Chon Buri, in that order. Chinese nationals suffered the largest number of deaths and injuries (221 injured, 79 dead), followed by French (41 injured, 18 dead), British (27 injured, 17 died), American (21 injured, 12 dead), and German citizens (22 injured, 11 dead).
In the Andaman and West coast of Thailand, China also accumulated the most deaths and accidents, followed by France, Russia, Germany and Britain.
The Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT) recently suggested turning Thailand into a regional training centre for hospitality and tourist safety.
The council said workers in industries like food, spa and wellness, medical services, hotel housekeeping, sports, and meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions are keen to transfer their knowledge and expertise to other countries.
The council will soon ask the cabinet to endorse the establishment of a Thailand tourism academy to provide a full range of hospitality training. The move is expected to improve the quality of tourism operators in neighbouring countries, and prepare them for long-term growth.
TCT will select 2 million workers, out of the 5 million working in the industry, to participate in the tourism academy.
In this role, they will teach foreign students the art of treating and looking after guests. Eventually, the council will promote 30 participants to trainers.