The big issue: Less danger, more holiday please

The big issue: Less danger, more holiday please

Trouble at sea: Rescue workers carry an injured foreign tourist to a hospital after a boat accident in Phuket last week. (EPA photo)
Trouble at sea: Rescue workers carry an injured foreign tourist to a hospital after a boat accident in Phuket last week. (EPA photo)

There never has been such a disastrous string of tourist crashes, bashes, smashes and tragic endings like the past two weeks. But there was plenty of warning. The speedboat collisions, bungalow collapse and Phuket shopping mall erosion were as well advertised as years of highway hell foretold Friday's horrific van crash that killed 11 teachers.

On the tourist front, six people are dead, 87 maimed or less injured and four speedboat ferries are pranged. Dreadful but predictable. In February two separate, careless boat drivers killed a French woman and crippled two Russians by running them over.

A British family was beaten senseless on Songkran morning in what the Tourism Authority of Thailand risibly calls "an isolated incident" but that was actually less violent than the infamous and nauseating murders and rape of two young Britons at Koh Tao.

There are tourists dying violently and needlessly in numbers that make the front pages. There are promises from the highest level to Do Something about it. And between these two extremes of reality and hoping, little is happening.

Naturally, there are those who see the problem of tourists crushed and mangled and swept by tides to death as purely a fiscal enigma. One of them, of course, is the head of the Thai Hotels Association because, paraphrasing Supawan Tanomkieatipume just a little bit, dead tourists hold down room occupancy.

Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, the Minister of Tourism and Sports, sees the financial side of things. Tourism, with massive numbers of both foreign and Thai travellers, accounts for around 10% of the entire economy. That's about double its influence of just 10 years ago.

After months of insisting she was on top of the problem, Mrs Kobkarn last week admitted she wasn't. It could prove important, because the first step to a cure is admitting there is a disease.

Until last week no one admitted it, where by "no one" we mean not a single important person from the prime minister all the way down the line to ... oh, say, the head of the Thai Hotels Association. To be fair, Ms Supawan sees a problem, but for her, not for the tourists. If visitors to Thailand continue getting smashed, crashed and bashed, it means, "We will lose business to our rivals" who must not be named but who are the 3M corporation of developing destinations, Maldives, Myanmar and Malaysia.

Now, the general prime minister and his cabinet and his Minister of Tourism and Sports know that foreign and Thai tourists are somewhat less than properly safe. In fact, the current military regime has not only rearranged the deck chairs of Phuket and Pattaya. People have been concerned and orders have been given.

Last week, when Ms Supawan urged stringent efforts to improve safety, we conducted a small and successful experiment. Because the word sounded so very familiar, we searched the recent newspaper archives (we call it "the morgue") to see.

On June 5, Ms Kobkarn herself "ordered stringent measures to take care of the safety of tourists", the government's Public Relations Department said. Last February, the Royal Thai Police specified its stringent monitoring of tourist safety measures. That followed the Dec 11 announcement by Gen Prayut that the government had taken stringent measures on tourist safety, just a month after the general prime minister himself had ordered stringent measures to ensure safety for tourists.

There is more, but to recap. The government seems to have outsourced its desire for tourist safety to the Underpants Gnomes from South Park. This group announced a three-step policy as far back as Dec 16, 1998, on making Thailand safe for tourists. In full, the plan is:

1. Issue stringent orders to ensure tourist safety;

2. ?;

3. Tourists are safe.

Step 2 is a little tricky and the UG continue to fine-tune that. There is some thought to training and even licensing drivers of high-speed boats. This is still controversial since, although it has worked for airplanes, it isn't a huge success with, say, vans such as the one that crashed and burned tragically in Chon Buri on Friday night. Still.

Another possibility is to inspect plans for resorts, hotels and bungalows, and to not approve plans to build on shifting sand near the water, for example. Lonely Beach is lovely, but no one wants it to be their last view, as it was last weekend for Kotchakorn Thammachak, as her bungalow crashed atop her.

Clearly, adults have to step in, stop promising and start delivering the goods on assuring a non-dangerous holiday for millions and millions of Thai and foreign tourists. Maniacs at the helm, drunks at the wheel, money-crazed builders at the beach — all these and more must be reined in, or that goose is going to start laying rotten eggs instead of the golden ones.

Alan Dawson

Online Reporter / Sub-Editor

A Canadian by birth. Former Saigon's UPI bureau chief. Drafted into the American Armed Forces. He has survived eleven wars and innumerable coups. A walking encyclopedia of knowledge.


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