Thailand to tackle safety lapses

CHIANG MAI, 2 May 2019: Flight of the Gibbon, a zipline attraction, remains closed pending an investigation into a fatal accident on 13 April, while the Thai government says it will be beef up safety at all adventure travel sites around the country.

Thailand’s Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat told the Bangkok Post, 27 April, a new law would be drafted to improve safety at adventure travel attractions countrywide.

“We’ve found that legal oversight (for these attractions) is lacking compared to other countries,” Weerasak told the newspaper.

The latest push to improve safety comes after a fatal accident at the popular Flight of the Gibbon zipline in Chiang Mai when Canadian Spencer Charles, 25, plunged to his death.

At the time police officers said they believed the zipline’s tackle snapped under the weight of the tourist.

They closed the park 13 April pending a full investigation and the zipline’s staff confirmed, 1 May, that it was not accepting bookings a status that could continue for at least another two weeks.

But the Minister of Tourism, who is due to vacate the post once a new government is formed, said he wanted to ensure there were long-term measures in place to restore confidence in Thailand’s adventure attractions.

It was a sentiment expressed some years back by a former Minister of Tourism following a boat accident near Samui. She said at the time that stricter rules and proper insurance cover would be introduced within six months.

While ziplines have been the subject of media attention,  new adventure travel legislation would also cover riding on banana boats, jet skiing and parasailing according to the Minister.

In North Thailand alone there are 17 zipline operators most of them located in Chiang Mai.

TripAdvisor identifies around 22 parks that operate zipline activities, but often the tours that are sold on TripAdvisor’s subsidiary Viator fail to identify the actual company offering the zipline activity in its packages, probably to prevent potential customers from going direct to the zipline operator.

Flight of the Gibbon in Chiang Mai has more than 2,000 positive reviews with just 28 described as “terrible.” Most of the very negative reviews relate to a failure to secure a refund with around four reviews posted around the time of the 13 April accident saying they could no longer recommend the attraction.

One reviewer went as far as saying they would not recommend any of Thailand’s zipline operators until the country’s safety record improved.

The Thai government is hoping to introduce more specialised insurance cover to include adventure travel options for visitors in addition to its “Thailand Travel Shield” insurance project.

Three insurance companies in Thailand provide online travel insurance for foreign tourists as part of the campaign to ensure all travellers have insurance cover when they visit the country.

But many international travel insurance companies exclude extreme adventure activities and riding motorcycles is one that nulls insurance cover.

Recently, the Tourism Authority of Thailand announced the five-year Thailand Travel Shield project involving Southeast Insurance, Muang Thai Insurance and Krungthai Panich Insurance has been renewed for another five years.

The travel insurance policies provide cover for up to THB1 million for a premium of THB400 for one to seven days.

The need to beef up adventure travel laws and safety regulations has been on discussion table since 2016 when Chiang Mai officials promised to improve safety standards at adventure tourism sites in the province following a string of accidents.  

At that time Flight of the Gibbon was ordered to temporarily shut down after three Israeli tourists were injured when they collided during a descent.

In 2015, two Chinese tourists died after falling from two separate zipline attractions, operated by Skyline Adventure and Flying Squirrels. Another Chinese tourist was injured while riding the Flying Squirrels’ zipline in 2016.

Flight of the Gibbon has been operating since 2007 and claims on its website to be “the largest and most trusted Zipline experience in Asia.”

(Source: The report quoting the Minister of Tourism on travel safety first appeared in the Bangkok Post. Additional background and reporting by TTR Weekly).