BANGKOK: Thailand has set up the National Tourism Safety and Security Committee to oversee safety measures related to tourism, the latest attempt to restore tourist confidence after the Phoenix boat disaster off Phuket last month.
According to Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat, the new body was formed with the main objective of improving the country’s safety and security standards.
The safety issue has been front and centre among foreign tourists after the Phoenix tour boat capsized off Phuket on July 5, killing 47 Chinese tourists and resulting in mass trip cancellations by Chinese travellers who had planned to visit Phuket and other Andaman destinations during July and August.
Mr Weerasak, who supervises the new body, said he instructed the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to prepare further preventive safety manuals and guidance for tourists while travelling in Thailand.
He said the guidance will not only focus on marine tourism, but also ensure tourist safety standards and awareness of crime issues at all attractions across the country.
Despite the mass cancellations, the TAT is still confident that China will remain the largest source of foreign arrivals to Thailand this year.
During the first five months, Chinese visitors generated about B100 billion in tourism revenue.
The TAT is set to work with travel operators in mainland China to help strengthen and restore travel between Thailand and China.
Special promotional packages will be launched soon to reclaim Chinese tourists, especially targeting the Golden Week period at the beginning of October.
Earlier this year, Kasikorn Research Center forecast that 10.6 million Chinese would travel to Thailand, up 8.4% from 2017, and generate B584bn in tourism income, up 11.4% year-on-year.
Overall foreign arrivals are predicted at 37.8mn, generating B2.02 trillion in tourism income, K-Research said.
To restore tourist confidence and enhance Thailand’s tourism competitiveness, tourism authorities have outlined a 19-year master plan for 2018-37, with regulations to be tightly enforced.
Mr Weerasak said the enforcement will help transform the country into a preferred destination for international tourists.
He said the TAT will be the main agency to prepare crisis management practices, as well as relief plans to help affected tourists, and propose them to the National Tourism Policy Committee.
Meanwhile, Markland Blaiklock, deputy chief executive of Centara Hotels and Resorts, said the tourism industry in the southern region should rebound within a few months of the Phuket boat disaster.
While the Chinese inbound sector was affected by the tragedy, his group believes it will have a short-term impact if Thailand proves that it will enact stronger measures for tourist safety.
“We regard it as a wake-up call for synergy across the tourism industry to ensure that tourist safety and welfare remain paramount,” Mr Blaiklock said.
“More robust enforcement of basic safety measures and regulations should be put in place by the government in order to continue to grow the appeal of the destination and Thailand as a whole.”
Centara has received some cancellations, mostly in Krabi and Phuket, plus some in Bangkok that are probably linked to other ones in the South, while other regions have seen minimal or no impact.
“Thus far the impact has been minimal and we expect it to remain so, providing that the government continues to quickly and effectively respond to the situation,” Mr Blaiklock said.
“Chinese tourists account for one-third of foreign visitors to Thailand, and almost a third of them visit Phuket,” he added.