CCTV to the rescue
BANGKOK, 31 July 2012: CCTV surveillance will play a vital role in Thailand’s efforts to improve safety for tourists, according to the foreign affairs ministry.
Late last week government leaders and governors from 10 provinces agreed on measures to beef up security for foreign tourists. The meeting was led by Foreign Affairs Minister, Surapong Tovichakchaikul, Interior Minister, Yongyuth Wichaidit. In attendance were provincial governors from 10 provinces – Surat Thani, Phuket, Songkhla, Krabi, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Chonburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Rayong and Trat, that host the bulk of tourists to Thailand.
Officers from the Tourist Police Division and officials from the Department of Provincial Administration and the Ministry of Tourism and Sports were also present.
Foreign Affairs Minister, Surapong, said it was imperative that the government deal with an unprecedented rise in tourist-related crimes during the first half of this year.
He confirmed that 15 complaints had been lodged recently at Thai embassies regarding the safety of foreign tourists in Thailand. The complaints were lodged after the victims returned home.
Most complaints focused on the threatening behavior of Jet Ski owners on Phuket Island. Owners forced renters to pay exorbitant compensation to repair non-existent damage to jet skis.
The scam has been going on for years and started in Pattaya where police have been more successful in prosecuting offenders.
Usually, Jet Ski owners demand a renter deposit their passport with them as a guarantee. On returning the Jet Ski, the owner claims the tourist damaged it or caused an engine malfunction. Demands can be as high as a US$1,000 and it often results in violent abusive behavior when the victim refuses to pay.
With or without CCTV, local officials and police know the identity of the offending Jet Ski operators, but provincial authorities particularly on Phuket Island have failed to apply the law, or arrest offenders. They are dealing with a business mafia that has considerable political clout at local district level.
CCTV cameras are likely to be more use tackling violent crimes in tourist districts possibly reducing theft and bag snatching.
The meeting called for more police patrols along beaches and tourist districts.
At the moment Tourist Police foreign volunteers go on patrol in tourist districts, but they should be accompanied by uniformed officers to avoid putting volunteers at risk. This is not happening despite assurances from the division chief.
The Foreign Minister said the meeting agreed to set up more tourist information centres in the provinces and would ensure that the centres had at least one staff member who could speak a foreign languages such as English, French and German. The centres should have sufficient hot lines open to tourists to communicate any complaints or problems.
“We should launch a public relations campaign that stressing to Thais that foreign tourists are guests, not targets.”
Mr Surapong said all the recommendations would be forwarded to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, adding that he will also invite directors of private hospitals to discuss the issue of rising medical costs.
“I have received many complaints from Middle East visitors over unreasonably high charges.”
Mr Surapong said he feared that if the problems were not resolved many foreigners would travel elsewhere to receive medical treatment since competition in the health care sector is fierce in the region.
Thailand is one of the top medical tourism destinations in the world, but complaints of high pricing could dampen enthusiasm and there is growing competition from neighbours including Malaysia that is making inroads in this niche market.