Thailand FM: Thais need educating that foreigners visiting Thailand are not targets

Thailand FM: Thais need educating that foreigners visiting Thailand are not targets
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The image of Thailand’s high-value tourism industry has taken a battering courtesy of the country’s foreign minister, Surapong Tovichakchaikul, who said a campaign is needed to educate Thai people that foreigners visiting the kingdom are worth a lot of money and are not targets.

FM Surapong Tovichakchaikul: Thai people need educating that foreigners visiting Thailand should not be viewed as "targets".
FM Surapong Tovichakchaikul: Thai people need educating that foreigners visiting Thailand should not be viewed as “targets”. MOFA

The comments, published in The Bangkok Post, along with a proposal to install more closed circuit television cameras (CCTC) in 10 provincial cities and asking police to increase patrols along beaches and at other tourist spots follows a brain-storming session at Thailand’s foreign ministry in response to increasing complaints received by its embassies regarding the safety of foreigners visiting Thailand.

Mr Tovichakchaikul said the meeting discussed several measures to better protect foreigners visiting Thailand and was held after more than 15 complaints were lodged recently at Thai embassies regarding the safety of foreign tourists in Thailand.

The meeting comes on the back of an article published on ninemsm earlier in the week which claimed that the majority of Australian deaths overseas occur in Thailand. The article failed to quantify the number of Australian tourists visiting each destination, or the number of days those tourists spent in each country.

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More foreigners visiting Thailand having a bad experience

Lydia Riach from Scotland - killed in Bangkok in 2009 when a bag snatch went wrong.
Lydia Riach from Scotland – killed in Bangkok in 2009 when a bag snatch went wrong. John Le Fevre

Irrespective of this, that an increasing number of foreigners visiting Thailand are sufficiently concerned to lodge written complaints seems without doubt, raising the question of how many foreigners visiting Thailand don’t write to embassies to complain about tourist safety in Thailand unanswered.

One Phuket newspaper recently launched a one person crusade against Phuket’s Reputation Being Ruined by Lies and Those Who Spread Them, particularly targeting the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.

A read of the comments section is interesting, with the editor of the publication in question failing to miss a single opportunity to berate, humiliate or bully any contributor who dared to suggest any validity to the Swedish publications claim that “Phuket is now one of the world’s most dangerous places for foreign and domestic tourists and businessmen”.

While this is somewhat of an exaggeration, in recent times in Thailand there has been:

a) A string of unexplained deaths of foreigners visiting Thailand at a hotel in Chiang Mai (Ed: the hotel is currently being demolished) (See: Chiang Mai tourist death probe finds no common link‚ PR campaign launched to protect tourism industry)

b) Two Canadian sisters, Audrey and Noemi Belanger, found dead in their rented Phi Phi Palm Residence Hotel bungalow on Koh Phi Phi (See: Canadian Sisters Suffer Gruesome Death in Thai Hotel Room.

This followed the unexplained deaths of American woman Jill St. Onge and Norwegian woman Julie Michelle Bergheim at the Laleena guesthouse, also on Koh Phi Phi, in 2009

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c) The stabbing murder of 60-year-old Western Australian travel agent Michelle Smith in a bag-snatch gone wrong near the five-star Katathani Beach Resort in Kata Noi Bay, on Phuket’s west coast.

d) Nine drownings of foreigners visiting Thailand on Phuket’s west coast beaches between May 18 and July 24 2012.

Extortion and thuggery by Thailand jet ski operators

Noemi and Audrey Belanger, the latest unexplained deaths of foreigners visiting Thailand - found dead in their room at the Phi Phi Palm Residence Hotel
Noemi and Audrey Belanger – found dead in their room at the Phi Phi Palm Residence Hotel. Courtesy Royal Thai Police

Add to this the almost daily reports of extortion and thuggery by jet ski operators in Pattaya and Phuket, along with almost daily news reports of foreigners visiting Thailand becoming victims of violent crimes, such as 63-year-old Australian Yasin Sharif who was allegedly drugged and robbed after taking an alleged sex worker back to his hotel room in Pattaya, and it’s easy to see how “target” is an appropriate word to use to describe the view some Thais have of their foreign visitors.

According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), which spearheads the spending of the more than $US7 million (Bt220 million) a year Thailand spends on international tourism promotion, more than 19 million foreigners visited Thailand in 2011, with more than 21 million forecast for 2012.

Figures released by the Department of Foreign Affairs for the period 2006 to 2011 show 430 Australian citizens died in Thailand, more than in any other foreign country during the period
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs figures show 430 Australian citizens died in Thailand between 2006 and 2011 — more than anywhere else during the period ninemsn.com.au

However, a look at recent foreign visitor arrival figures shows the majority between January and June 2012 coming from China (943,161), Malaysia (916,367) and Russia (578,687), the majority of whom would not fall into TATs “big spenders” category.

That the best Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs can come up with is to install a few more CCTCs and employe a few information officers who can speak one or more foreign languages, shows either a lack of imagination, or the lack of importance the Thailand government sees in the tourism industry.

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With more than $US24.3 billion (Bt776 billion), or about six per cent of Thailand’s 2012 GDP expected to derive from foreign visitors, making tourists feel safer should be a priority worthy of more than just a few CCTCs.

Similarly the reason why more foreigners visiting Thailand appear to leap / fall off balconies in Pattaya than visitors to anywhere else in the world also needs some answers.

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Feature photo John Le Fevre

 

 

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John Le Fevre is an Australian national with more than 40 years experience as a journalist, photographer, videographer and editor.

He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia, with stints in the Middle East, the USA, and England.

He has covered major world events including Operation Desert Shield/ Storm, the 1991 pillage in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009, 2010, and 2014 Bangkok political protests.

In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.

Most recently he was the Thailand editor/ managing editor of AEC News Today . Prior to that he was the deputy editor and Thailand and Greater Mekong Sub-region editor for The Establishment Post, predecessor of Asean Today.

In the mid-80s and early 90s he owned JLF Promotions, the largest above and below the line marketing and PR firm servicing the high-technology industry in Australia. It was sold in 1995.

Opinions and views expressed on this site are those of the author’s only. Read more at About me

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