Murder mystery dents sandbox hopes

Murder mystery dents sandbox hopes

Confidence shaken as authorities treat the death of a 57-year-old Swiss woman as a homicide

As of Thursday, 16,408 international tourists had arrived in Phuket, while 129,594 room nights have been reserved for this month.
As of Thursday, 16,408 international tourists had arrived in Phuket, while 129,594 room nights have been reserved for this month.

The death of a Swiss woman in Phuket that authorities are treating as a murder has shaken tourist confidence and affected the Phuket sandbox scheme, says the Tourism and Sports Ministry.

"Every authority involved with the Phuket sandbox including the ministry has to share the responsibility," said Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, the tourism and sports minister.

On Thursday, the body of a 57-year-old Swiss woman who was visiting the country as part of the Phuket sandbox was found near Tone Ao Yon waterfall in tambon Wichit.

Police identified her as Nicole Sauvain-Weisskopf, the deputy protocol chief of the Federal Assembly of Switzerland.

"This incident should not have happened. The sandbox scheme was starting to gather pace and many countries are keeping an eye on us," Mr Phiphat said.

The ministry sent a letter of condolence to the Swiss Embassy in Thailand.

He said the victim's family should receive compensation of up to 1 million baht from the ministry's tourism fund.

Mr Phiphat said greater cooperation between security agencies, the Tourist Police Bureau and Phuket governors is required in order to improve confidence in tourism.

In addition to a security upgrade in Phuket, he said all sandbox destinations must tighten security measures in order to convince tourists they will be safe while travelling in the country.

However, Mr Phiphat admitted the tourist police does not have sufficient staff to cover all tourism areas, as the agency has only 2,000 tourist police nationwide.

It has to train another 3,000 volunteers to help strengthen local surveillance and adopt technologies to enhance security systems and avoid past mistakes, he said.

One of the most notorious cases occurred in 2014 when two British backpackers were found dead on the island of Koh Tao in Surat Thani.

The most important issue is to track down the murderer to allow the truth to come out, said Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor Yuthasak Supasorn.

The key components for reopening each tourist area are the development of herd immunity, marketing plans and supply-side development, which includes tourist safety, said Mr Yuthasak.

He said it might be too early to label this incident a failure of the Phuket sandbox because the authorities already extended high-level surveillance to many places. The crime scene is a location that is off the beaten track, said Mr Yuthasak.

"The incident has inevitably affected the sandbox's image, but it is too soon to predict booking trends as tourists normally take a two-week lead time before taking trips," he said.

As of Aug 5, 16,408 international tourists had arrived in Phuket, while 129,594 room nights have been reserved for this month.

The murder in Phuket has been reported via news agencies in Switzerland, Japan and various other countries.

Ratchaporn Poolsawadee, president of the Tourism Association of Koh Samui, said the case in Phuket will weaken tourist confidence in Thailand and it will take time to rebuild that confidence.

The incident hasn't affected the Samui Plus scheme yet, said Mr Ratchaporn.

As of Aug 5, Samui had received 190 tourists directly via the Samui Plus scheme, while 257 travellers arrived via the Phuket sandbox. Most of the arrivals via Samui Plus were from the UK, France and Germany.

Also read:

Swiss victim's timeline to murder

Govt 'sorry' for Phuket murder

Editorial: The shame of Thai tourism

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