As though Thailand hasn't taken enough battering of its tourism reputation lately it has taken a further knock with the missing Malaysia Airlines flight.
Reputable Australian newspaper the Sydney Morning Herald reported yesterday that investigations into the stolen passports of two passengers on the flight “have swung to the Thai island of Phuket, where there is a thriving stolen passport racket”.
Two of the supposedly listed passengers on Flight 370, an Italian and an Austrian, had their passports stolen from a car rental agency in Phuket many months ago.
Two years ago I was in Phuket and wanted to rent a car. The agency demanded I lodge my passport with them but I refused, instead offering my Australian driving licence, which they failed to notice had expired. When I returned to the car they were full of apologies and said that a staff member had lost my driving licence.
The Sydney Morning Herald continued: “Hundreds of passports are lost or stolen on Phuket each year, raising fears they could fall into the hands of criminal or terrorist networks.
“Former Australian honorary consul Larry Cunningham, who retired from his Phuket posting last September, said during his time as consul passport thefts occurred regularly.”
Phuket, indeed the whole of Thailand, needs to clean up its act on these thefts and all the other all-to-common scams on jet-skis, taxi rentals and coerced visits to jewellery shops and tailors.
Watch out Thailand. Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries are going to knock you off your self-satisfied perch as the favoured tourist destination.