A slap in the face was the welcome to Thailand for one Chinese tourist, but the red faces are all on our side
A picture is worth a thousand words, so the saying goes – and maybe a hard slap to the face will cost Thailand millions of baht in tourism revenue.
The slap was delivered by a beleaguered security guard at Don Mueang International Airport. The recipient was a Chinese tourist angry at being denied entry to the Kingdom after he failed to prove he had a place to stay and money to pay for it. Ordered to a detention room, the tourist refused to go. Events turned physical.
Video of the incident naturally went viral, drawing the ire of countless people in China. The guard got the sack, perhaps at the prodding of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who was quick to step forward in the interest of saving the country’s No 1 industry from suffering losses additional to what’s already been sacrificed in 2018.
Through the government spokesman, Prayut “expressed regret” and admitted concern about “Chinese sentiment”. That was understandable. China is Thailand’s biggest source of tourists, making up about a quarter of its 35 million visitors last year. A major dent was put in revenue from that source in July when a boat carrying scores of Chinese tourists capsized off Phuket, leaving 50 people drowned. The tragedy was appalling, the economic fallout upsetting for Thai hotels and travel services for which numerous bookings were cancelled.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan managed to make matters worse by trying to blame the deaths on the tourism firm involved, which is partly Chinese-owned. It should have heeded the warnings of rough seas, he said.
Prayut, wiser or better informed, asserted that the Don Meuang security guard should have controlled his temper and handled the tourist “in keeping with international practices”. But what exactly set the guard off? No one is saying. He might have felt menaced or taken more verbal abuse than he could tolerate. Perhaps he was trying to impress his supervisor by taking firm control of the situation with a sharp slap. Regardless, there was no justification for what he did.
Of equal concern is the fact that a state agency like Airports of Thailand evidently recruits staff members who are unable to cope with pressure. No security guard in Thailand is well paid and, since one gets what one pays for, we’re not going to see a high level of professionalism among low-ranking airport staff, let alone the cool-headed dexterity to defuse a volatile situation.
There are other questions. Would a visitor from a country other than China have received that slap in the same circumstances? Do Immigration officials ask every arriving visitor where they’ll be staying or demand to see an invoice of their hotel booking? Is it even necessary, or just a way
to create the illusion that Thailand is serious about security?
But the incident chiefly suggests that we examine the work attitudes of Thais employed in public security and other safety-related fields. The fact that they are on the job for the good of the public does not justify a self-righteous attitude, much less physically abusing anyone. They do deserve regular breaks when they can let off steam, but of all public servants, security officials should be the ones who know best where the red line is and understand that it cannot be crossed without a price being paid.