The 4th Army Region base, in Nakhon Sri Thammarat, is the regional Army command centre for all of Southern Thailand, and has its the 25th Military Circle division stationed in Phuket.
Gen Wichan issued the request at a meeting held at the Phuket office of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports.
Present to hear the “request” was Phuket Provincial Chief Administration Officer (Palad) Anupong Wawongmoon as well as local legally-registered tour guides, and representatives from the Phuket Tourist Association and tour companies.
To work as a tour guide, which in Thailand is an occupation reserved for Thai nationals only, guides by law must be qualified by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports and be registered with the Tourism Business and Guide Registration Office.
At the meeting, the legal tour guides voiced their grievances about illegal tour guides still operating in the island’s lucrative tourism industry.
“In the past, there have been complaints about unregistered tour guides. This problem affects the image of tourism in Phuket,” Gen Wichan said.
“Before, we had more Chinese tourists travel to Phuket than ever before. But now the number of Chinese tourists coming to Phuket is decreasing,” he said.
Although Gen Wichan was careful not to expand his explanation further, his open recognition of the decreasing number of Chinese tourists as the key factor of the “problem” lent itself to the common understanding that when the Chinese tour market was overloaded, private tour companies hired illegal guides to serve their clients.
The argument presented at the national level was that there were not enough Thai tour guides proficient enough in Chinese language to serve the vast volume of Chinese tourists travelling to the Kingdom – a factor consistently denied by official tour guide associations when pleading to preserve the work of tour guides for their legally registered members only.
However, since the plunge in the number of Chinese tourists coming to Thailand throughout this year, the number of Chinese-speaking tour guides required to serve the inbound Chinese market has also fallen – meaning that fewer illegal guides were needed to serve the market.
Gen Wichan’s appeal yesterday inferred that tour companies now no longer needed to hire illegal guides, and that tour operators now “should” move to hire legally registered tour guides only.
“I want every department to create a good image of tourism in Phuket,” Gen Wichan told the meeting yesterday.
“The issue concerns safety of tourists and to make sure tourists are not exploited,” he added.
“And all the tour guides have to be legitimate (formally registered),” he said.
“Our focus is on safety measures in all aspects, especially water tourism. Phuket has strict security measures, which will increase the confidence of tourists in travelling to Phuket,” Gen Wichan concluded.