Too late to tackle tourist scammers?
A tourist scam in Phuket has prompted Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha to raise concern about the adverse impact such incidents may have.
He has warned tourist operators not to exploit tourists or the province’s reputation will be tarnished. Or is it too late now for that?
The scam-hit the headlines on July 19 after two Australian tourists filed a complaint at Karon police station that a passenger van driver had charged them 3,000 baht to take them from Phuket airport to a hotel about 50 kilometers away.
It was reported that local transport authorities and police summoned the van operator to negotiate with the tourists but they “could not reach a compromise”.
According to Prapai Suankool, a senior transport official, there are posters to advise tourists of general fare expectations in many public places.
Since there are no fixed fares for van taxis, the final price usually depends on what the driver and passengers agree between themselves.
He said tourists are normally charged 1,600-2,000 baht for a trip from the airport to Phuket’s Kata area where the Australians’ hotel was located.
Eventually, the authorities slapped the van operator with a fine of 2,000 baht, not for ripping anyone off, but for picking up passengers in a restricted area with no authorisation.
Gen Prayut, who was irked by the news, told the operators through one of his aides: “If local operators keep taking advantage of tourists, the province’s reputation, and even the country’s, could suffer.”
The prime minister is not wrong to make such a statement. The only problem is that it has come a bit too late.
Besides, tourist exploitation in this resort town is deep-rooted and not limited to the transport sector.
Nor are such scams restricted to Phuket. In fact, it is typical in most — if not all — tourist provinces. The prime minister does not have to look very far. Bangkok is notorious for overcharging tourists too.
Taxi drivers, who strongly object to app-based competitors whom they accuse of stealing their customers, are known for their dirty tricks.
These include rejecting local passengers as they target foreigners with whom they can get away with turning off the meter in favour of an exorbitant fixed fare.
Indeed, even some of those who agree to use the meter find ways to scalp their unwitting passengers.
Just last month, a foreign tourist hailed a taxi from Suvarnabhumi airport to Khao San area and was baffled to find that, upon reaching his destination, the fare on the meter was somewhere near 4,000 baht.
This taxi was registered with the airport authorities so any passengers would expect no less than honesty.
The driver later confessed to police that he had illegally fitted his cab with a “turbo-meter”.
And then there is the tuk-tuk scam, the tour boat scam, the shopping scam and two-tiered prices for many goods and services, that effectively turn the dream holidays of many tourists into a disappointment, if not a nightmare.
Some tourists should count their blessings that they were only overcharged since there have also been cases where selfish tour operators have intentionally neglected safety standards resulting in death or injury.
A case in point being the boat accident in Phuket in July last year after a tour operator ignored safety rules by sailing on rough seas during a heavy storm.
The Phoenix capsized killing 47 tourists, mostly Chinese.
Tourism has been a key driver of the economy over the past few decades, bringing in several trillion baht in revenue. The Tourism Authority of Thailand has heavily promoted the country, with sound success.
Last year, Thailand welcomed some 38 million visitors, with Chinese tourists being the largest group, and the agency has set a new target of 40 million arrivals this year.
But state agencies, while taking pride in quantity, do not make enough of an effort to ensure quality.
There are also indicators the TAT’s 40 million-traveler target may be hard to achieve as visitor numbers have slowed over the past seven months, with less than a 1% increase in arrivals.
And arrivals in June dropped more than 4%, to 2.9 million, compared to the same period last year. Yet the TAT has no hesitation in blaming these numbers on the sluggish world economy and strong baht.
While the TAT may be partly justified in making a fuss over these external factors, it also appears not to see a bigger problem on their own doorstep that may be to blame: the exploitation of tourists which occurs almost everywhere in the country.
By refusing to acknowledge the prevalence of the problem, they continue to allow selfish operators to rip off and take advantage of oversees holidaymakers while apparently forgetting that it’s their duty to regulate the industry in order to promote a culture of honesty that will encourage tourists to come back again in the future