Tourist safety at stake

Tourist safety at stake

Thailand is facing a problem so serious it can permanently damage the economy and its reputation. More important, the problem involves lives. The tourism industry is currently being rocked by a series of accidents, and unless policies and standards, and especially enforcement, are changed quickly and drastically, there will surely be many more preventable deaths and crippling accidents among foreign and Thai tourists. It's a situation that demands instant and determined reaction.

This country's "safe" reputation is earned and deserved -- but only in one sense. The streets and alleys are generally safe to walk, and foreign visitors are seldom singled out as victims. But for a long time Thailand's roads, rivers and offshore waters have been getting increasingly dangerous. In the past two weeks, speedboat crashes at sea involving four separate boats laden with tourists have resulted in six deaths and 87 injuries. A bungalow collapse trapped and killed a Thai tourist, while the biggest shopping mall in Phuket has been roped off because the walls are caving in.

In the past seven months, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has ordered "stringent measures" to protect tourists. His Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul has done the same. There have been no noticeable improvements. Instead, the world has witnessed a spike in tourist deaths.

Tourism provides a full 10% of Thai gross domestic product. It must be protected at all costs by ensuring the safety of foreign and local visitors. It will need a concerted effort and should begin with police and military enforcement of what regulations now exist. Gen Prayut and Mrs Kobkarn must tighten laws on construction, transportation, driver education -- including boats -- and more. They must also enforce them.

To date, all we are hearing is calls for action, but none is taken. The blame for this lies in many areas, but consider the Thai Hotels Association (THA). The group's president, Supawan Tanomkieatipume, last week called on the government to solve the problem of unsafe speedboat ferries. She said that unless the Tourism and Sports Ministry acts quickly, Thai hotels will lose business.

While Ms Supawan could have found a better way to express her concern, it was even more troubling that she tossed this problem to the government. The hotel executive even listed the problems involved: operators who run their businesses without a licence, overloading of boats, and reckless drivers. It is disappointing the head of such an important group can offer no suggestions about how to address these problems, and instead pass the buck to the government.

It is obvious that the safety of tourists is more than just a government problem. The industry reaps extraordinary profits, so it cannot cynically sit back. Almost all hotels are directly involved in tourism activities, often operating services that extend way beyond their core business. THA members transport tourists in vans and buses, own and operate boats, including speedboats, and so on. They offer guidance and recommendations, gaining commissions in the process.

Clearly, then, new steps on tourist safety demand a joint effort between the public and private sector. The THA can be part of the solution. One example, building on Ms Supawan's complaint, is that THA members should insist on speedboat standards, including craft, driver training and absolute enforcement of rules.

The THA can set the bar for boat services on rivers, canals and open waters to build confidence and show the world it is not waiting for others to recognise there is a problem.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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