FOREIGN AMBASSADORS LIST 7 CHANGES NEEDED FOR PHUKET – Foreign Ambassadors to Thailand must often think that discussing any of Phuket’s tourists problems with the local Thai authorities or indeed central government figures, is not only pointless it is exasperating and a complete and utter waste of time.
There are, as most expats in Phuket will testify too, a number of investigations into alleged corruption, property encroachment and issues with tourist safety.
There are times it appears that the Thai authorities have woken up to the fact that they can no longer hide their corrupt and inept practices from the international media and the latest round of ‘change’ and ‘enforcement’ was the introduction of Department of Special Investigations (DSI) setting up office in order to eradicate the darker elements, including scams and corruption, in order to make tourism safer and more amicable.
Recently the European Union Ambassadors’ provided a list of 7 issues that need tackling if Phuket is going to clean up its image and recover the European tourist market.
Ambassadors are calling on the Thai authorities to create a fair priced public transport system that is efficient.
The consensus is that an affordable system would not just help foreign tourists escape the extortionate rates of taxis and tuk tuk’s but would also provide residents, Thai and foreign, to benefit from the same.
Result: A public bus service has been initiated in part, however there are already issues with the service being inefficient. In fact, less than a week into operation the service was cut by less than half.
Other problems also exist as Phuket International Airport management initially wouldn’t allow the public bus service to pick up and drop off tourists outside the terminals – again it appeared that such space was reserved for the taxi; legally operated or otherwise.
Controlling Tuk Tuk Drivers
With the high number of incidences being reported of extortion, intimidation and physical violence the Ambassadors have asked that Tuk Tuk and indeed Taxi drivers undergo better training and reduce their fares to a more sensible level; it is currently perceived that Phuket’s tuk tuk and taxi fares are some ten times higher than in the capital of Bangkok.
Another element was also noted which referred to the rise in violence that resulted in the use of a weapon. Ambassadors therefore want some form of plan whereby tuk tuks and taxis are subject to periodical checks in order to eradicate the carrying of illegal guns, knives, swords, machetes and other weapons.
Result: Recently the DSI announced that a re-negotiation with the Tuk Tuk’s had resolved a number of issues. Unfortunately the only issue this appeared to resolve, from the Ambassadors and public’s view, was their incessant greed.
Tuk Tuk associations, after the last round of talks with the local authorities, simply resulted in the Tuk Tuk’s being allowed to increase their fares by as much as 30%; leaving locals and Ambassadors shaking their heads in disbelief.
Just two days ago, yet another altercation broke out between a Russian national and a Tuk Tuk driver. The Russian ended up in hospital after accusing the Tuk Tuk driver of extortion. On this occasion the Tuk Tuk driver was fined and ordered to pay for the Russian’s medical costs.
Incredible, despite the assault, the Tuk Tuk driver was not arrested for the assault or charged with any offense.
Once again it appears that the local authorities, including the DSI, simply do not want to tackle the issues head on and many suspect this is due to the Tuk Tuk associations being run by powerful mafia groups where the local authority members, police and even some in central Government figures are involved.
Enforcement of Marine Safety Standards
This area covers a multitude of sins including inexperienced speedboat captains who have been responsible for a high number of accidents; often resulting in the deaths of tourists.
Jet Ski operators also come into the fold with Ambassadors calling for the end of the ‘damage scams’.
Result: These issues, along with many others, have plagued the reputation of Phuket as a holiday destination for over a decade. The issues with the Jet Skis alone have been responsible for a large decline in western tourists as they become aware of the scams through the internet.
Last month DSI officers took to random drugs testing of both speedboat captains and Jet Ski operators and found a proportion that tested positive for drug use.
Again this cast’s serious doubt to their ability to keep tourists safe whilst at sea and also heightens the issue and risk of violence – especially when Jet Ski operators move in to scam tourists out of thousands of dollars for bogus claims of damage to their Jet Skis.
Despite the amount of press on the continued scams and deaths of foreign tourists nothing has changed and yet again Ambassadors are left with having to pick up the pieces by dealing with tourist issues that could be easily solved if only the law was in fact strictly applied.
It was of the Marine Police Chief No.5 who once declared at a meeting between a number of foreign Ambassadors, Honoury Consols and Thai authority figures, that it was perfectly acceptable to rip-off foreign tourists, as they had ‘Big Money’ and thereby could afford such payments, whilst the poor Thai people were only trying to scrap a living.
Enforcement of Public Officials and Police Conduct
Ambassadors called for change so that foreign tourists and foreign residents felt safe and were dealt with fairly.
The Ambassadors called for the end of corrupt measures that extort cash from foreigners. One of the most notable areas again fell on the Jet Ski operators who call in the police to ‘mediate’ the level of compensation for damage to their Jet Skis.
Of those tourists who have been scammed it was almost always reported, after they arrived back in the safety of their home country, that the police officers were simply involved in the scam and that their ‘mediation’ service was nothing more than a way to force tourists to pay up for bogus damages.
Other issues include problems at immigration where it is widely known that immigration officers will ask for under-the-table payments in order to assist foreigners with any visa issues they might have.
The other issue covered was the corruption of local authority officials. Ambassadors called upon local officials to stamp out corruption that often allows for illegal encroachment of land, illegal construction and the illegal operation of business.
Result: Simply nothing has been achieved. The Jet Ski operators continue to scam tourists at almost every opportunity and it appears the police are more than happy to continue ‘mediating’ these claims.
As for local authority corruption; this continues unabashed and rampant. Recently there has been a so-called ‘encroachment drive’ whereby local authorities and the DSI have been investigating resorts, bars and restaurants for encroaching on public land; mainly the beaches.
Despite DSI involvement these issues remain largely unresolved and indeed in some areas encroachment on the public beaches appears to be growing.
Yet again local authorities are being accused of protecting powerful figures behind the scenes in return for payment.
Eradicate Scams Involving Jet Skis and Motorbikes
As pointed out above the issues with Jet Skis has a long and colorful history. However motorbike rentals have also been a source of income through scamming foreign tourists.
This happens in one of two ways:
Firstly, as with the Jet Skis, tourists are accused of damaging the motorbike, of which such damage is allegedly not, covered by insurance. Again police are often called in to ‘mediate’ which is merely seen as an extension to the scam.
Secondly a number of cases have arisen whereby a tourist rents a motorbike and the rental business then steals it back. Tourists are then asked to pay for a new motorbike and once again they are backed up by police ‘mediation’.
Result: There has been no change to either of these scams, leaving many to believe that the police are too heavily involved in the scam for it to be eradicated.
Again the enforcement of conduct of local authority officials and police is paramount, as the Ambassadors view it, to eradicate these types of scams.
Road Safety Enforcement
Thailand currently has one of the highest rates of road accidents and related deaths in the world.
Ambassadors have continuously called for greater measures to enforce road traffic laws that will make driving far safer; for both foreigners and locals.
Result: A couple of years back a previous Governor of Phuket, along with police officers, did attempt a 100% helmet wearing campaign.
This did result in a higher number of people, both foreigners and Thais, taking to wearing appropriate safety equipment whilst driving a motorbike.
Unfortunately the issue of ‘road safety’ stopped there. The authorities stated that there were simply not enough police officers to enforce road traffic violations, such as speeding, jumping red lights, dangerous driving, driving defective vehicles and of course the issue that plagues Phuket – drink driving.
Again, checkpoints are set up by the police to capture individuals breaking the law, such as drunk driving, driving without a helmet or indeed driving without a licence.
Many view these checkpoints as a way for the local police to simply top up their salaries and does nothing in preventing the rising death toll on the roads.
Promotion of Environmental Issues
With the continued encroachment of land and the unabated and uncontrolled development Ambassadors have called on the local authorities for better controls.
This, from the Ambassadors perspective, will help Phuket retain its natural beauty which ultimately attracts tourists.
Another issue addressed is that of ‘water quality’ as the management of waste water from the bars, restaurants, hotels and other businesses appears to be pumped into the sea.
A few years ago this issue was highlighted in Europe after a well known travel magazine in Germany initiated an undercover investigation into beach water quality and found that the saturation of coliform was thousands of times above any European safety standard.
Result: Open drains continue to be in abundance and no authority appears in the least bit interested in testing water quality on the beaches and then publishing their findings.
This appears to be a classic case of an Ostrich burying its head in the sand hoping that the problem will simply pass it by.
Unfortunately such a practice never works or provides any tangible benefits and as Phuket’s beaches become more polluted there will be little or no reason for tourists to visit.
It would appear that the authorities are simply not interested in anything the Ambassadors have to say and there is a consensus that their suggestions are merely seen as interference in to areas that are of no concern to theirs.
The issues here are wide and varied. Most of it could simply be attributed to cultural differences but many suspect that the ‘loss of face’ also plays a large roll – that is the Thais simply do not like being told by foreigners that things are inadequate and therefore it is easier to ignore or sweep them under the carpet.
The question needs to be asked… ‘Do the Ambassadors, foreign tourists or indeed foreign residents have the right to demand change?’
Such demands from an outside influence will always be viewed with suspicion and little more than interference.
Surely if the Thai Ambassador to Germany, for instance, started to suggest or insist on change to the way the German’s operation in order to make it more in tune with Thai culture then the German’s would no doubt take offense.
Yes, that attitude of ‘If you don’t like it go home’ swings both ways and after all who are we to dictate to a nation what its policies should be in order to create a more prosperous tourist environment.
Maybe it’s time for the Honoury Consols and Ambassadors to back off and leave the Thais to do what they want with their country and tourist industry.
Certainly there is a need for the Honoury Consols and Ambassadors in order to deal with problems from their nationals but to attempt to change a culture and people that don’t want change is an uphill battle that cannot be won by outside influence.
It has been well documented that many Thais want change so that those in power are more accountable for their actions but again this should remain an issue for the Thai people to deal with.
With the number of Thai forums, such as ThaiVisa.com, which provides useful information to those foreigners wishing to visit or live in Thailand, there is a rise in the amount of criticism which when read by Thais will only enforce their resolve to oppose change – probably just to spite foreign opinion.
Would it be far more constructive to provide possible solutions other than simply berating the system and the Thai way of doing things?
Tourists and foreigner residents need to take a step back and realise that Thailand is nothing like Europe or indeed any other country in the west. Whilst we may feverously and vehemently disagree with the Thai way, we must allow them to manage tourism the way they see fit and if that involves fleecing tourists then so be it.
Anyone with a modicum of common sense will tell you that you can only scam so many people before the word becomes so widespread that people start to avoid it.
It could be argued, with the downturn in western tourists, that the word is getting out and if the Thais are happy to see their tourism industry being flushed down the toiled through their own greed and corruption then so be it.
Maybe the Thais haven’t yet realized that there are hundreds of other tropical destinations around the world that are safer and where the locals don’t engage in violence or scams against their visitors – on the other hand, maybe the Thais actually like society as it is and again whatever their views or perceptions, this must remain theirs without outside interference.
Remember, as foreigners, either tourists or residents, we do have a choice and for many that choice now appears to be taking a vacation elsewhere or indeed packing up and heading for somewhere more indicative to their views of how a system should be run.