High on his agenda at the meeting at the Graceland Resort in Patong was the behaviour of some police and immigration officers. “Some of them behave badly and are corrupt, abusing their powers,” he said, though without citing cases. “Others do not have the skills to investigate criminal cases and justice takes too long.”
He complained that there is a shortage of transport for all tourists. About 1.5 million Chinese tourists came into Thailand from January to April this year, he said, and the lack of transport meant many were kept waiting and were otherwise inconvenienced.
He cited one case of tourist group kept waiting for three hours for a van and guide to collect them.
He was scathing about the quality of Thai tour guides whose Chinese language skills are not good enough to explain culture and history in depth and in a respectful way, so that tourists can appreciate Thai culture and want to return.
Part of the problem, he said, was the sheer numbers of tourists. He understood that it would be difficult to reduce the numbers of “zero-dollar tourists”, but Thailand should try to do so, he said, because this was not good for tourism in the long run.
That said, there were issues he believed should be addressed, such as safety and security, including theft, food poisoning, road accidents and in particular signage.
“In Bangkok there are Chinese signs and information, but in Phuket there are very few. For example, tourists don’t know what red flags [at the beach] mean.
“When Chinese tourists call 1155 [the Tourist Police hot line], officers cannot speak Chinese, and the recorded messages in Chinese are complicated and difficult to understand.”
Chanapan Kaewglachaiyawut, Secretary of the Thai-Chinese Business Association agreed. He pointed to the police pamphlet promoting the 191 emergency had used Google Translate for the Chinese message. Google Translate should never be used, he said, because it was inaccurate.
Amb Guan advocated a system such as in China, where emergency calls go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs call centre, where many languages are spoken fluently.
He also said there should be collaboration between phone companies and government in both countries to automatically provide phone messages when Chinese tourists land in Thailand, giving useful information and essential Chinese government contact numbers.
Replying to some of the ambassador’s complaints, Dr Prajied Aksornthammakul, Chief of the Phuket Provincial Office, said “We have been talking with colleges in Phuket to get them to persuade young people to become guides in Chinese and Russian.
“We are also trying to increase signage in Chinese language in tourist hotspots such as Patong, and as for the slowness of justice, the new Minister of Tourism wants to set up special tourist courts with longer working hours, to speed up cases.
“We will discuss the other issues you have aired today,” he added.
Pol Col Pirayut Karachedi, Deputy Police Chief of Phuket, stressed that police were not ignoring cases involving Chinese tourists and their problems with jetskis, motorcycle and car rental people, tuk tuk and taxi drivers.
But he said police need help from the Chinese Embassy and Thai officials to inform tourists about scams and problems before they fall victim to them.
He did not address the accusations of unfairness and corruption.
But he countered the ambassador’s dismissal of police investigation abilities by pointing out that a man who raped a Chinese tourist in January is now in jail.
In the latest case involving the five-hour ordeal of a young Chinese tourist and a molesting taxi driver, the driver had been caught but had denied doing any wrong, so this case would take longer to resolve.
Panompol Thammachatniyom, president of the advisory group to the Senate Standing Committee on Tourism’s, pointed out that there are 600 to 700 Thai guides in Phuket who speak Chinese. “Why don’t [Chinese tour companies] use them?” he asked.
The ambassador retorted, “I’m not talking about quantity. I’m talking about quality.”
The meeting began at 2pm and was slow going, partly because all discussion had to go through an interpreter, even though Amb Guan speaks excellent Thai.
At 5:40 police were ready to discuss what they felt was the biggest issue – security for tourists – but the ambassador had to leave to catch his flight back to Bangkok.