Safe in Thailand
Why does Thailand remain one of the world’s most-visited nations, even through economic turbulence, when its tourism attractions look similar to those of other ASEAN members, including Vietnam?
Besides pristine beaches, which can easily be found in many other countries, Thailand attracts a large number of international travelers thanks to its “specialty”: the Safety Zone.
There are no reminders left of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that killed more than 8,000 people, both Thai and foreign. Instead, large crowds of tourists fill Bangla Road, the undisputed center of Phuket’s nightlife, around 10pm after a beautiful day at the beach.
Scantily-clad bar girls stand in front of their watering holes, trying to entice passing tourists with their sexy poses. As the night wears on, the popular walking street becomes more colorful and noisy, with a group of transgender women rushing out and waving to visitors.
Cold beers, loud music, and sexy girls help tourists put aside the tragedy of nearly a decade ago.
The tourism street is usually busy from 10pm to 4am. Visitors feel safe thanks to the “Safety Zone” initiated by Royal Thai and Phuket/Pattaya police in July 2012.
Chutathip Chareonlarp, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s representative office in Ho Chi Minh City, told Tuoi Tre that the new project is aimed at preventing crimes and scams to ensure the safety of all residents and tourists.
She added that Thai tourist police also play an important role in providing safety and peace of mind to international tourists when they visit Thailand. They provide around-the-clock assistance to tourists regarding anything from simple information to serious crimes.
In Phuket, where the “Safety Zone” program was first piloted, Thai authorities have installed 30 cameras in addition to boards displaying hotlines on major streets so that both foreigners and locals can contact police in case they are attacked by criminals or find something suspicious.
Local volunteers, taxi drivers, and restaurant or hotel owners have also joined the police in ensuring safety for foreign visitors.
Effective policies abroad
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), under the management of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, plays a key role in successfully promoting Thailand’s image worldwide thanks to its effective tourism development policies.
There are 24 TAT offices around the world whose main duty is to support local travel agents and tour operators and other related sectors to create tourism products for tourists, Chutathip said.
One of its most successful policies was the creation of the Tourist Police force in 1982, a group that has since contributed greatly to the development of Thai tourism.
“Some aspects that lure tourists to Thailand are value for money, good accessibility, warm hospitality, and other suitable tourism products,” Chutathip pointed out.
“As for new attractions, TAT works closely with public and private offices nationwide to expand our tourism offerings to consumers. This includes promoting new destinations and new activities,” she added.
One more major reason why tourists prefer Thailand is that they can find competitive rates for various package tours. For instance, Vietnamese tourists can buy a four-day package tour to Bangkok or Pattaya at an affordable price ranging from VND5 to 6 million ($250 to $300).
According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s office in Ho Chi Minh City, about 540,000 Vietnamese tourists visited Thailand in 2011, a 30 percent increase year-on-year.
An estimated 60 percent of international visitors return to Thailand after their first trip, according to tour guide Huynh Dang Khoa, who often brings Vietnamese tourists to Thailand.
Tourism is a key industry in Thailand, as it makes a large contribution to the country’s economy (typically about 6 percent of GDP).
According to Chutathip Chareonlarp, the number of international tourist arrivals in Thailand during the first 11 months of 2012 reached 20 million.
“The Tourism Authority of Thailand projects that the country could welcome 21 million this year, up 8% from 2011. All regions have reported impressive gains,” she said.
According to TAT, arrivals in November 2011 fell 18% due to major floods in the country’s south. This November, international arrivals reached 2,073,817, up 60.57%.
For 2013, TAT has targeted an 8 percent increase in number of arrivals over 2012, and an increase in tourism receipts of 13 percent.