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Opinion: Making Phuket’s roads safe one step at a time

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Opinion: Making Phuket’s roads safe one step at a time | The Thaiger
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Dr Wiwat Seetamanotch, 57, from Yala, has been living in Phuket since 1987. He worked as director of Thalang Hospital for 17 years, followed by 10 years as deputy director for the Phuket Provincial Health Office.

Now retired, Dr Wiwat has been working on road safety campaigns for the past six years, as well as running a clinic in Thalang. He is now the vice president of the Road Safety Network Group under the Thai Health Promotion Foundation.

Here, he talks about what should be done to make Phuket’s roads safer for all who use them.

PHUKET: Thailand is renowned for its dangerous roads, and has consistently been ranked in the top five for having the highest number of fatal road accidents in the world.

Just last week, a Chilean man was killed in Thailand while on the final leg of a five-year, round-the-world cycling journey he was set to complete in November. Two years ago, two world-famous British cyclists died after being struck by a pick-up truck in the Kingdom. These are just two fatal, high-profile examples of accidents that happen on Thailand’s roads every day.

I would like to pass my condolences to all friends and families who have lost loved ones in road accidents here. It is especially sad when these things happen, as accidents can be prevented.

There are three main problems that contribute to the high number of road accidents in Thailand: poor road and traffic engineering, a lack of traffic law enforcement and motorists’ behavior.

These problems combine to make the situation even more dangerous. Many of Phuket’s main highways are built through local communities. This quickly becomes a very dangerous situation when motorists are driving full speed through these areas while locals are driving slowly. Then, there is the added element of pedestrians and cyclists trying to use the roads as well.

These speed discrepancies on Phuket’s roads increase the chances of road accidents. We need to separate high-speed highways from lower-speed roads.

If a road has to be built through a community, medians must be installed to prevent people from cutting through heavy main road traffic to get to the other side. These medians must also provide plenty of places where motorists can make u-turns. Sometimes, the next u-turn is more than a kilometer away, and people choose to ride against traffic instead of driving down to the u-turn.

In the end, many of Thailand’s road problems and accidents could be prevented with a stronger police presence on the streets. This would help stamp out some dangerous driving behaviors.

I am aware that we do not have enough police officers and that we lack proper road equipment, such as cameras to catch speeders and people who run red lights. However, police can take charge.

Motorists who break the law should receive the maximum penalty. If someone is caught drinking and driving, he or she should face the maximum penalty of three to six months in jail – no excuses.

If someone is caught running a red light, not wearing a helmet or not fastening their seat belt, he or she should face the music for it. People who repeatedly commit these crimes should also have their licences suspended or even revoked.

About 80 per cent of motorists who die in road accidents in Kathu are found to have been drinking. That is a shocking figure. These are mostly those who are driving under the influence in Patong. In Muang and Thalang districts, about 50 per cent of road deaths involve alcohol. This must be stopped.

Phuket authorities must be tough when it comes to traffic offences. They need to scare motorists and make them realize that heavy fines and possible jail time is not worth breaking the law.

We work very hard to promote road safety through our public relations campaigns. It would be a success if we could get police on board with enforcing the rules, and motorists with taking more care when operating a vehicle.

It will not be an easy change to make, as many believe that fate controls whether or not we die in a road accident. This is not true. Road accidents can be prevented.

Environment can change behaviors. If we have a police presence on the roads, people will start to follow the rules and, eventually, their bad driving habits will change.

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Opinion

Thailand tourism recovery- are we doing enough?

The Thaiger

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Thailand tourism recovery- are we doing enough? | The Thaiger

OPINION by Andrew J Wood

The wheels of Thailand’s tourism industry are slowly turning. Travel and tourism is starting to move again. Weekends in Hua Hin hotels for instance are close to capacity (with some resorts experiencing 90% occupancy and some even higher). Being close to Bangkok; the weather, air quality and the fact that you can drive from the metropolis definitely helps.

But two out of seven days are not enough and our islands, away from Bangkok are suffering the most. Domestically they receive very few guests and are EXTREMELY reliant on international travellers.

International flights into Thailand are currently not allowed for tourists. The only flights in are carrying repatriated Thai nationals or those with jobs here and holding a work permit or are invited government guests. All have to enter 14 days of quarantine on arrival.

We need international arrivals to support our tourism industry but they will not travel without flights and on arrival having to spend 2 weeks in quarantine. We cannot survive on domestic tourism alone. Last year Thailand welcomed 39.8 million guests.

We are asking for your support. To all our industry friends and professionals we ask you to talk about what our industry decision makers, government and tourism agency/ association colleagues can do to help restart flights. We need to reopen our skies.

We are grateful for the Thai government’s leadership in controlling Covid-19. Thailand was recently ranked second in the Global Covid-19 Recovery Index after Australia, and is first in Asia in the same index.

Thailand is regarded as a leading light, a flagship of Asian tourism. Thailand’s tourism industry needs flights to recover and, in turn, protect valuable jobs. Opening up a dialogue to help make it more accessible for foreign visitors to travel to Thailand is vital.

The industry requests the help from Tourism Authority of Thailand Governor Yuthasak Supasorn and Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn. PM Prayut Chan-ocha announced that international travel is possible on a bilateral basis. No further details however have been released.

The Thai Government has done an excellent job in controlling the coronavirus pandemic with only 3,135 infections and just 58 deaths. They are to be congratulated. It is encouraging to note that Thailand has logged no new local Covid-19 infections for the past 22 days. As we move into the recovery phase we need to now restart international flights into and out of Thailand.

Without air lift, recovery for some businesses, will simply not happen. 1,000 tourists, which is the maximum figure per day the government are suggesting, will in our opinion be too few to support the tourism industry. Thailand’s tourism industry, is a major employer, which directly and indirectly affects millions. For almost two decades, the industry has been providing employment for 1-in-10 of all workers here.

The peripheral grey market that supports tourism has also been widely affected. The street vendors for instance and other low paid informal workers struggle daily.

It is important to all business owners to keep our valued employees and maintain trust with them. Please help support the tourism industry’s call to allow international tourists to once again revisit these shores.

In your webinars and zoom meetings; in your social media interactions and discussions and industry meetings, please ensure that your opinion on restarting international flights and protecting tourism jobs are made known.

Respectfully,

Andrew J Wood, President

Skål International Bangkok

About the author…

Andrew J Wood was born in Yorkshire England, he is a professional hotelier, Skalleague and travel writer. Andrew has 48 years of hospitality and travel experience. He is a hotel graduate of Napier University, Edinburgh. Andrew is a past Director of Skål International (SI), National President SI Thailand and is currently President of SI Bangkok and a VP of both SI Thailand and SI Asia. He is a regular guest lecturer at various Universities in Thailand including Assumption University’s Hospitality School and the Japan Hotel School in Tokyo.

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Tourism

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble – Thailand’s international travel quandary

Tim Newton

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Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble – Thailand’s international travel quandary | The Thaiger

With apologies to William Shakespeare.

You’re going to hear a lot more about travel bubbles in the next few months. Indeed it will become the ‘new normal’ in the short-term for Thailand’s battered tourism and hospitality industry. The world is NOT going to magically re-open up and travel as they did before, at least not in the next few years.

Even if a viable and world-wide available vaccine appears in the next 12 months there will still be a long transition back to old travel habits, if ever. In the short to medium term anyway, potential travellers have debt, jobs and community changes to come to terms with. Discretionary spending, including travel, will not be high on their priority list. And if they do travel, it will most likely be regional instead of far flung exotic international ports.

Thailand’s potential travel bubbles would likely include South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taiwan, even Singapore (which has had a sudden spike in migrant labour Covid-19 cases but has otherwise largely controlled its community transmission). Beyond the region, Australia and New Zealand are also low-risk candidates for early international travel back to Thailand.

China remains the quandary for Thailand”s Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, under the leadership of the PM Prayut Chan-o-cha. Whilst China has led the way in bringing the virus under control, there are now bursts of 2nd-wave outbreaks in some Beijing suburbs. Chinese officials have jumped on the outbreaks with lockdowns imposed in 11 nearby neighbourhoods, and 10,000 people near the outbreak zone are now being tested.

The current outbreak is linked to Beijing’s largest wholesale market, Xinfadi where 45 people out of 517 tested positive for the coronavirus. None of the infected people displayed any symptoms.

So creating a travel bubble with China, generally, will move to the back-burner although the Thai government may contemplate allowing Chinese travellers from low-risk cities to be part of the early travel bubbles.

But even the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s China office is tempering enthusiasm that Chinese tourists are lining up at airports ready to board planes and visit Thailand. In fact they say it’s just not going to happen in the short-term as outbound travel for most Chinese remains heavily curated. But even as travel restrictions ease, the prospects of a Chinese-led tourism recovery are low as Chinese purchasing power for outbound trips will remain extremely weak.

The surging Chinese unemployment rate of 6%, or 27 million people, remains a challenge even as regional tourism consultants and gurus in Thailand’s hospitality industry wax lyrical about alleged “pent-up demand” and “Chinese-led tourism recoveries”. Even the TAT’s Lerdchai Wangtrakoondee, director of the Shanghai office says, after temporarily adopting new hygienic practices for months, the situation in China is “returning to normal”, but outbound tour operators are “still on ice”.

Thailand’s Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul announced last Friday that Thailand, now virtually Covid-19 free, has had early talks with China and New Zealand to create bubble tourism.

The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration says that creating travel bubbles, served by an airline corridor between nations or cities that are Covid-19 free, are now on the table. Despite the recent outbreak in the south western suburbs of Beijing, most of China is now deemed ‘low-risk’. Even Japan is having a new outbreak – 48 new cases in one day, the most since early May – centered around Tokyo’s nightclubs and entertainment establishments. But, in both cases, the countries’ health officials quickly go into lockdown and contact-tracing mode.

Thailand’s CCSA has announced it might open the country to international flights after June 30 but on a “limited basis” to kick-start travel but will cap a daily limit on arrivals and restrict the travel to business visitors, work permit holders and essential medical travel (no, a massage in Walking Street is not considered ‘essential medical travel’). But no specific dates have been mentioned at the moment although a meeting of the CCSA tomorrow is said to put the ‘bubble’ issue on the table for some quick decisions.

It is also understood that the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand will not extend the international travel ban after it expires and leave the CCSA, empowered by the emergency decree, to decide who will be able to enter Thailand and under what sort of restrictions. All things considered, it is unlikely that any of these bubbles will be in place before August.

Even when the travel bubbles are created, they will certainly be accompanied by restrictions. A “fit to fly” certificate as well as a ‘clear’ medical certificate, less than 72 hours before the flight. It is also likely that medical insurance with US$100,000 cover will be required, although medical insurance covering Covid-19 is difficult to find, or expensive.

Locally, the hopes are on domestic tourism. But tourists are visiting parts of the country where shops remain shuttered, many tourist attractions remain closed, bars and entertainment venues are closed and flights are few. Some hotels are open but most remain closed. Some shops, which eagerly re-opened in Phases 2, 3 and 4, are now being re-closed as business owners realise it’s cheaper to stay closed in the short-term than open with draconian restrictions or social distancing making it difficult to operate efficiently. eg. Restaurants, which rely on a wafer-thin margin at the best of times, hardly even pay the rent with 50-80% of their seating capacity removed.

The international travel bubbles are a relatively safe way to kick off international travel but the best we can hope for, in the immediate future is more, or larger, bubbles. These bubbles will not burst until the vaccine arrives.

The Thaiger will continue to provide the latest information on all announcements about the return of international travel into Thailand.

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Business

Will Pattaya bar customers want ID tracing and bar girls with masks and gloves?

The Thaiger

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Will Pattaya bar customers want ID tracing and bar girls with masks and gloves? | The Thaiger
PHOTO: The Pattaya News

OPINION

Why do people travel to Pattaya? If it’s for the legendary bar scene, they’re going to be in for a surprise if proposed Covid-era measures are adopted. Likely it’s not going to be the ‘Pattaya’ they were expecting, or had been accustomed to in the past.

Social distancing (surely a phrase to be added to dictionaries from this year), limiting customers inside a bar, and bar workers with face masks and gloves, are just some of the proposed ideas for bars and nightclubs in the party town when they are finally allowed to re-open.

Understandably owners of the popular bars are desperate to lift up the shutters and entice the customers back into their familiar domain of expensive drinks, loud music and attractive hostesses. The large band of young female employees are also eager to welcome back the tourists. But the ‘new look’ bar and club scene may not be a turn on for the city’s expat crowd or future tourists.

In the suggested proposals, customers could also be asked to submit ID prior to entering a venue in case the information is needed for contact tracing in future. Screening checkpoints could also be set up at the entrances to popular haunts like Walking Street and Soi 6.

A meeting to discuss possible transition guidelines was held last Sunday at the Hollywood Club attended by representatives of Pattaya’s bar and nightclub scene, and officials from City Hall and the local police.

The meeting also discussed the possibilities of waiving various taxes and licensee fees. The issue of intransigent landlords who are still demanding full rent payments, was also discussed.

The seaside resort is facing a wipe-out scenario until some safe means of opening bars and clubs can be found. But that’s only the start of the recovery. At this stage there are no tourists and any early opening would only serve the city’s expat community or a trickle of domestic visitors.

The Thai government have closed all international airports for incoming passengers until at least the end of May and, beyond that, have not disclosed the conditions whereby they’d be willing to allow foreigners to return. Many of the Pattaya’s feeder markets for tourists are still in the midst of their own pandemic responses and are banning citizens from travel. Australians, for example, are being told it is unlikely to the government will allow international travel for the rest of this year. Airlines, meanwhile, remain largely grounded with their business models in tatters and many of the smaller, low-cost airlines facing closure.

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