CHIANG RAI, 19 March 2018: You have to wonder sometimes if journalists can write in their sleep, especially when they report on what government ministers have to say on a variety of issues the rest of us are hard pressed to take seriously.
The latest dropped into my email box courtesy of Thai Visa.com on Sunday, which in turn had been snatched from the online pages of the Nation.
Whatever, when a minister says tourists will be issued with electronic wristbands to ensure authorities know their location and to gather big data, we wake up from our Sunday daydreaming with a jolt. Not again, I thought the wristband nonsense had been buried for good.
This is not the first time that electronic wristbands have made headlines. The former minister of tourism and sports, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, mentioned them a few years back and was laughed off the stage.
I am not sure if it was the wristbands, or the assertion that the Tour De France was considering flying all the way to Thailand for the starting line ceremony and race that had tourism veterans chuckling for days on end.
Unfortunately, the wristband scourge is making a comeback, this time in Phuket of all places and has the support of the Digital Economy and Society Minister Pichet Durongkaveroj.
He was visiting Phuket and promising more Wi-Fi hotspots which is an excellent idea. Increasing free Wi-Fi hot spots by another 1,000 will make Phuket one of the “smartest” islands in the region.
But the wristbands are not smart. They are a surveillance gadget and would not be welcomed by most tourists with perhaps the exception of tourists from North Korea and Iran. Most tourists would object to wearing them as they might constitute an infringement of privacy.
Also, using them to collect big data for commercial purposes would be frowned upon. Definitely not a subject that would gain support in the human rights fraternity.
Of course, the minister trotted out the need for security and having the capability to rescue of tourists in distress. The electronic locator would save lives, he argued.
In some remote and rare instances yes they might. But for most visitors wearing an electronic wristband would not be cool, just another irritant that would send them packing to some other sandy paradise less paranoid.
It would certainly be a good way to discourage tourists from visiting Phuket and that might help the island to stay clear of ‘overtourism’. If discouraging tourists from visiting Phuket is the goal, then the wristband might be just the ticket.
I would say the minster should tell Phuket’s authorities to go back to the drawing board. Phuket does not need the stigma of compulsory wristbands. If wearing them is voluntary, forget it, no one will wear them.
If they are compulsory would visitors have to return them to immigration officials at the airport on departure? Or perhaps they would dump them in a trash can at the end of the trip adding to the island’s mountain of plastic and hazardous trash.
And if they lost their wristband would they get rapped on the knuckles? That is often the case when the arrivals/departure (TM 6) card goes missing.
Well thumbs up for Wi-Fi in every nook or cranny and sorry the wristbands should be dumped in trash can before they do Phuket’s image some serious damage.