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Thai PM calls for urgent safety review covering marine safety and caves

Author: Andrew J Wood / Date: Wed, 07/18/2018 - 11:27
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Phuket’s tourism industry is worried that the current spate of advance booking cancellations could be worse than first reported in the aftermath of the Phoenix boat disaster, which killed 47 tourists earlier this month.

PHUKET - An urgent review has been called by the Thai PM and the Governor of Phuket to halt the wave of cancellations from Chinese tourists to Phuket.

Phuket’s tourism industry is worried that the current spate of advance booking cancellations could be worse than first reported in the aftermath of the Phoenix boat disaster, which killed 47 tourists earlier this month. A record of poor safety standards, lack of accurate, timely information on the disaster along with disrespectful photographs of the deceased has angered Chinese relatives. Their anger has spread rapidly on Chinese social media platforms.

Initial reports suggest that around 7,500 rooms at approx two dozen hotels in Phuket booked by Chinese tourists, have been cancelled, causing a loss of millions of baht.

Kongkiat Khuphongsakorn, President of the Thai Hotels Association Southern Thailand chapter, said to local media, “The booking rate has fallen sharply by 80%-90% at Patong beach and by 50% across the province after the incident.”

In Phuket, Chinese tour companies are offered room rates of approx 1,000 (US$30) baht per night. However total visitor spend can be as high as 20-40,000 baht per head taking the potential lost revenue to tens of millions baht.

Mr Kongkiat was also reported saying, “The Phoenix tour boat disaster would affect Chinese tourists for the next three months but would only have a short-term impact on visitors from other countries.”

News reports showing disrespectful images of the victims bodies being posted online has not helped, with family members angry over seeing their own family members’ bodies in pictures on the internet,” he added.

It has turned sadness into anger, and many Chinese have cancelled their travel to the Phuket area,” Mr Kongsak said.

The number of Chinese visitors to Thailand has tripled in the past five years. Last year 9.8 million Chinese tourists came to Thailand, generating 500 billion baht (US$15 billion) in tourism revenue. Around 3 million visited Phuket.

The Phoenix dive boat capsized with 101 people on board. On the day of the tragedy, 5th July 2018, the boat was returning after a trip to nearby islands. In heavy seas, it was carrying 89 tourists, 87 from China, and 12 crew.

Minister of Tourism and Sports, Weerasak Kowsurat, in recent statements said the focus should shift to enhancing safety to deliver a quality tourism experience.

The Minister of Tourism and Sports was quoted saying “the safety of marine tourism, our cliffs, mountains and our caves must be a priority”.

From Chiang Rai Mr. Jaffee Yee publisher of Chinese language NiHao magazine, a specialist publication focusing on travel and tourism in Thailand said, “Perhaps the worse has yet to come [in regards to cancellations]...Thailand must put her act together as far as transport safety is concerned. So many innocent people, Thais or foreigners die each year simply due to the negligence of stakeholders and operators. The law is far too lenient. Heavy fines must be imposed and rogue operators banned for life.”

Industry sources agree and say the government's efforts to overhaul safety measures across all forms of transport will play a pivotal role in regaining the confidence of foreign travellers.

In terms of compensation, families of 36 of the 47 victims have contacted the Office of Insurance Commission (OIC) to obtain compensation from Bangkok Insurance Pcl and Thaisri Insurance Pcl, according to the OIC.

So far 30.2 million baht (approx US$ 900,000) has been paid out by both companies.

Top-ranking officials and the Governor of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) have already begun rolling out their campaign to limit the fallout as fears grow over the volume of tour cancellations from mainland China.

A Government spokesman recently said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has instructed officials to investigate the case thoroughly.

Phuket Governor Norraphat Plodthong headed a meeting this weekend in Phuket with Vice Admiral Somnuk Preampramot, Commander of the Royal Thai Navy Phuket Region 3 and the Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Yuthasak Supasorn.

They are focusing on five main areas:

  • COMMUNICATIONS: Disseminating information to Chinese media on the response operations and the support provided to the victims and their families
  • SAFETY: Alleviating fears from Chinese tourists who are concerned about safety, and emergency rescue systems in place in Thailand
  • MEDIA: Accurate, concise and timely media communications from official sources to counter-act social media gossip and inaccuracies during a crisis
  • WEATHER REPORTING: Improved reporting and integration of the Thai Meteorological Department, which issues weather alerts, with radio; media and television. Hourly bulletins are required 24/7
  • MARINE SAFETY: Marine Safety Regulations to be strictly enforced. Boats must be inspected for seaworthiness, safety equipment, navigation systems, life jackets and the competence of the captain and crew on board

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew J Wood

English born Andrew J Wood, is a freelance travel writer and for most of his career a professional hotelier. Andrew has over 35 years of hospitality and travel experience. He is a Skal member and a hotel graduate of Napier University, Edinburgh. Andrew is also a former member of the Executive Committe of Skal International (SI), National President SI THAILAND, Club President of SI BANGKOK and is currently SI Asia Area a.VP Southeast Asia (SEA), and Director of Public Relations Skal International BANGKOK. He is a regular guest lecturer at various Universities in Thailand including Assumption University's Hospitality School and the Japan Hotel School in Tokyo.