Thai PM calls for urgent safety review following tragic boat deaths of Chinese tourists
An urgent review has been called by the Thailand Prime Minister and Governor of Phuket to halt cancellations from Chinese tourists to Phuket.
An urgent review has been called by the Thailand Prime Minister (PM) and the Governor of Phuket to halt the wave of cancellations from Chinese tourists to Phuket.
Phuket’s tourism industry is worried that the current spate of advance booking cancellations could be worse than first reported in the aftermath of the Phoenix boat disaster, which killed 47 tourists earlier this month. A record of poor safety standards; lack of accurate, timely information on the disaster along with disrespectful photographs of the deceased has angered Chinese relatives. Their anger has spread rapidly on Chinese social media platforms.
Initial reports suggest that around 7,500 rooms at approximately two dozen hotels in Phuket booked by Chinese tourists have been cancelled causing a loss of millions of baht.
Kongkiat Khuphongsakorn, President of the Thai Hotels Association Southern Thailand chapter, said to local media, “The booking rate has fallen sharply by 80%-90% at Patong beach and by 50% across the province after the incident.”
In Phuket, Chinese tour companies are offered room rates of approximately 1,000 (US$30) baht per night.
Mr. Kongkiat was also reported as saying, “The Phoenix tour boat disaster would affect Chinese tourists for the next three months but would only have a short-term impact on visitors from other countries.
“News reports showing disrespectful images of the victims’ bodies being posted online has not helped, with family members angry over seeing their own family members’ bodies in pictures on the Internet.
“It has turned sadness into anger, and many Chinese have cancelled their travel to the Phuket area.”
The number of Chinese visitors to Thailand has tripled in the past five years. Last yea,r 9.8 million Chinese tourists came to Thailand, generating 500 billion baht (US$15 billion) in tourism revenue.
The Phoenix dive boat capsized with 101 people on board. On the day of the tragedy, July 5, 2018, the boat was returning after a trip to nearby islands. In heavy seas, it was carrying 89 tourists, 87 from China, and 12 crew.
From Chiang Rai, Mr. Jaffee Yee, publisher of Chinese language NiHao magazine, a specialist publication focusing on travel and tourism in Thailand said: “Perhaps the worse has yet to come (in regards to cancellations)…Thailand must put her act together as far as transport safety is concerned. So many innocent people, Thais or foreigners, die each year simply due to the negligence of stakeholders and operators. The law is far too lenient. Heavy fines must be imposed and rogue operators banned for life.”
Industry sources agree and say the government’s efforts to overhaul safety measures across all forms of transport will play a pivotal role in regaining the confidence of foreign travelers.
In terms of compensation, families of 36 of the 47 victims have contacted the Office of Insurance Commission (OIC) to obtain compensation from Bangkok Insurance Pcl and Thaisri Insurance Pcl, according to the OIC.
So far, 30.2 million baht (approximately US$ 900,000) has been paid out by both companies.
Top-ranking officials and the Governor of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) have already begun rolling out their campaign to limit the fallout as fears grow over the volume of tour cancellations from mainland China.
Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has instructed officials to investigate the case thoroughly.
Phuket Governor Norraphat Plodthong headed a meeting this weekend in Phuket with Vice Admiral Somnuk Preampramot, Commander of the Royal Thai Navy Phuket Region 3, and Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Yuthasak Supasorn.
They are focusing on six main areas:
•COMMUNICATIONS: Disseminating information to Chinese media on the response operations and the support provided to the victims and their families.
•SAFETY: Alleviating fears from Chinese tourists who are concerned about safety, and emergency rescue systems in place in Thailand.
•MEDIA: Accurate, concise, and timely media communications from official sources to counter-act social media gossip and inaccuracies during a crisis.
•WEATHER REPORTING: Improved reporting and integration of the Thai Meteorological Department, which issues weather alerts with radio, media, and television. Hourly bulletins are required 24/7.
•MARINE SAFETY: Marine Safety Regulations to be strictly enforced. Boats must be inspected for seaworthiness, safety equipment, navigation systems, life jackets, and the competence of the captain and crew on board.