BANGKOK, 12 December 2018: Tourist safety is a top priority according to Thailand’s Minister of Tourism and Sports, Weerasak Kowsurat, as the country embarks on a journey to establish quality over quantity.
Commenting on the ministry’s ongoing policies, he claimed measures had been initiated to “balance, manage, distribute visitors and preserve the quality of tourism destinations.”
“For many years, we have focussed on quantity. It is now time to shift to quality,” he said emphasising it was not a reference to a “golden goose” to improve the economy, but a call to “reduce social disparities and upgrade the quality of life for Thai people.”
While stating it was important to understand what motivated visitors to choose Thailand and understand customer demographics, time availability and budgets, the top priority was to provide safety and security.
His comments on safety were made during a week when the World Health Organisation issued its latest global report on road accident fatalities.
Thailand was listed as having the most dangerous roads in ASEAN with a death rate of 32.7 for every 100,000 population compared to just 2.8 deaths per 100,000 for Singapore.
On a daily basis, literally thousands of foreign tourists travel overland, or explore destinations in Thailand mostly on motorcycles and this is causing the fatality rate among tourists to climb. Thailand is listed by WHO as the sixth most dangerous destination for road fatalities, worldwide. As long as the horrific slaughter, exceeding 22,000 deaths annually, on Thai roads continues Thailand falls short of the “quality destination” designation.
To improve tourist safety some laws need to be amended, for example he suggested the cost of travel insurance could be included in the visa fee, but that does not address the fact most travellers enjoy visa-free travel.
A more inclusive solution needs to be found, although tour operators point out that their clients, probably representing around 6 million visitors a year, are covered by travel insurance.
Weerasak emphasised that if an accident occurs, travel insurance should cover medical expenses, not Thai taxpayers.
Different categories of insurance cover could be introduced to meet varying risks linked to soft adventure activities such as diving, climbing and white-water rafting.
But the big loophole in present insurance policies available to individual travellers is the exclusion clause for motorcycles. Companies hiring out motorcycles to tourist are not offering insurance for injury, although in some instances they have cover for the loss or damage to the motorcycle.
In most cases hiring a motorcycle in Thailand will null and void travel insurance purchased in the traveller’s home country.
Environmental protection was also identified as Weerasak noted that this was the first year that saw the Thai government and the Thai tourism private sector working hand-in-hand to ban smoking on public beaches and outlawing plastic bags and foam containers from national parks.
Tourists are encouraged to use the traditional “Pintos” ( made up of three or more stacked food containers). However, weaning Thais off plastic bags and water bottles on a nationwide scale remains a challenge.