The trouble with tourism

The trouble with tourism

Four Thai men committed an uncivilised criminal assault on three foreign visitors last month. They also left the country with a black eye. The Hua Hin market assault on two British men and a woman triggered a series of reactions in the country from officials who should know better. Almost all of the reactions were wrong-headed.

First, however, conditional credit where it is due. The justice system had to be kicked into action, but after that, it worked well. Police found a video recording of the vicious attacks. They quickly found all four men seen in the video beating the foreigners. They brought them to prosecutors and the courts at speed, and an expedited trial was under way in Hua Hin Provincial Court by Monday morning.

There is really no other good news. Officials to the very top of the political tree made a bad situation worse. The constant complaints about "damage to the country's image" are not at all helpful. Isolated incidents like the barbaric Hua Hin attack require action, not talk. Police blamed the victims for not reporting the crime quickly, then blamed the release of the video.

Then there was a ray of light. At Monday's court session, PM's Office Minister ML Panadda Diskul showed up. He spoke at length with the Owens, and noted there are bad people everywhere, and Hua Hin actually is a safe place. Lewis and Rosemary Owen told him that after 20 visits to Thailand, they will never return. The visit was an excellent decision by the minister, but could have occurred earlier and included an apology.

It is difficult to make a positive impression from this horrendous assault on friends of Thailand like the Owens. But it is easy to turn a bad situation worse. There was the initial slow response by law enforcement, then matched by the political classes until ML Panadda's gesture. The Prachuap Khiri Khan tourism office had reached out to the Owens, but just to ensure they would appear at court to relive the beating as witnesses. The Tourism Authority of Thailand showed no public concern for the victims.

The family deserved much official sympathy and, just for starters, assurance that Thailand would look after their hospital expenses. The Owens got sympathy, mostly from the public and social media. It was of course online forums where news of the savage beatings emerged. Thai-language media, possibly through timidity, refused to cover the full brutality until the story had gone around the world twice.

Police are a major part of the problem. No Thai or tourist expects 100% safety. But the Hua Hin police failure to provide the promised Songkran security played at least a minor role. Four drunken men obviously felt safe enough to attack people who accidentally bumped them in the crowds.

Then there is the overall police attitude. Example: Last Thursday, eight men intruded into a small group of friends in eastern Bangkok. They singled out a young Lao woman and proceeded to beat the daylights out of her -- worse than the uncivilised attack on the Owens. Two men kicked her in the head 11 times, all caught on two video cameras and shown on social media. Police say the thugs were hired by a jealous wife to get revenge on her husband's gik. As of yesterday, there had been no arrests.

This incident, although not reported in blazing Fleet Street headlines, also "gives a bad image" of Thailand. It shows police are efficient, only when they want. For any number of reasons -- influential figures, difficult crimes, even fear -- police in far too many cases neither protect citizens from crimes nor solve them.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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