Surat Thani to stop issuing permits to carry guns
Authorities in Surat Thani yesterday decided to stop issuing or renewing permits for individuals to carry weapons in Koh Pha-ngan as part of tighter security measures after a British tourist was killed in a crossfire between two Thai gangs on New Year's Day, Governor Chatpong Chataraputi said.The move came as key private organisations called on the government to ensure the safety of tourists and maintain Thailand's reputation as a popular destination.
The Tourism and Sports Ministry announced yesterday that safety measures for tourists would be enhanced and highlighted as a national agenda, ministry spokesman Vachara Kannikar said as he admitted that recent incidents had tarnished Thailand's reputation.
Meanwhile, the governor yesterday held an urgent meeting in which it was agreed that concerned agencies would not issue new permits or renew existing permits as a means to prevent the use of guns on the island, which is popular among foreigners for its full-moon parties.
Also, at every full-moon party, officials will conduct a close inspection of all arrivals at the piers, the governor said, adding that any weapons found would be confiscated and returned later.
Prakit Chinamourphong, vice president of the Thai Hotels Association (THA), said the country's image had been destroyed because many tourists had been killed, robbed or raped in key tourist destinations like Pattaya, Phuket and Krabi. On December 26, two Russian women were robbed and raped near the Bang Lamung reservoir in Chon Buri.
He called on the government to put in place more security measures to prevent further incidents and ensure tourists' confidence while they are in the country.
"More police officers are urgently needed at all major destinations in order to provide better care for tourists. Some high risk places like Pattaya may need specific measures," Prakit said.
According to THA, tourism has been picking up now that political unrest has eased and things have been stable for the past two years. However, the situation might worsen now, he warned.
Last year, up to 21.5 million tourists visited Thailand, higher than the projected 20.5 million. The government aims for 21 million arrivals this year and hopes to receive up to 22.2 million in 2014.
"If the government wants to see continual growth in tourism, then they should move to protect visitors and end this problem," Prakit advised.
According to Sisdivachr Chevarattanaporn, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA), the government should ensure the safety of tourists in big cities like Pattaya where the crime rate is on the rise.
As per ATTA's statistics, more than 2 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand in 2012, while there were a million each from Russia, Japan and South Korea.
"These are our key tourist markets and they are very sensitive about safety issues, so the government should consider this. If our government cannot ensure top security, we face huge losses," Sisdhivachr warned.
Piyaman Tejabaibun, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT), warned that many people planning to visit Thailand might be worried about their safety, though she added that they will probably not change their itinerary. Hence, she said, the number of arrivals should meet the target.
"The TCT hopes that the tourism industry will continue growing this year because there are no indicators of the industry being affected," she said.
Pornthip Hirunkate, vice president for marketing at the TCT and also managing director of leading travel agency Destination Asia, said that despite the two recent incidents most of her clients have not changed their plans to visit the Kingdom.
However, she admitted that safety was a crucial issue and that the council had been working hard with local authorities to find a long-term solution. She has also called on the government to take quick, serious action against criminals to help boost tourist confidence in the country. She warned that if nothing was done immediately, the industry would be hurt very badly, especially in terms of Russian tourists.