Leading the delegation were Zhou Guangxu, Third Secretary and Vice Consul of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, and Li Chunlin, Counselor and Consul General from Embassy of The People’s Republic of China in The Kingdom of Thailand.
Also present was Ma Cuihong, who as Deputy Consul-General of the Chinese Consulate-General in Songkhla also heads the Consular Office of the Consulate-General in Phuket.
At the meeting, held at Provincial Hall hall following the delegation’s inspection of lifeguards at Patong Beach (see story here), Phuket Vice Governor Prakob Wongmaneerung explained provincial efforts to improve safety for tourists.
V/Gov Prakob explained the recent crackdown on motorbike rental operators, and that all rental motorbikes must be insured, helmets must be provided to the driver and passengers, and that operators are only permitted to rent out motorbikes to people who have the “correct licence”. (See The Phuket News April 27 page 1 story here.)
He also explained that tour buses and trucks were not permitted over Patong Hill from 6-9am and 4-7pm* each day for safety, and that signs had been posted to warn of dangerous curves and slopes along the notorious road, and that public transport vehicles, including tour buses, were subjected to more stringent safety checks.
On marine safety, V/Gov Prakob explained the steps taken by local officials in the hope of improving safety on board tour boats and gave a long list of conditions that apparently apply to jet-ski operators, including that all jet-ski rentals must be provided under an agreement written in four languages (English, Russian, Chinese and Thai), that jet-skis are not permitted outside dedicated areas, and that jet-skis are not allowed to be refuelled on the beach or in the sea.
However, several conditions regarding jet-ski operations were related to the delegation that The Phuket News has yet to substantiate, namely that every jet-ski must have “first-class insurance”, must not exceed 130hp and that the rates charged for renting jet-skis must be uniform across all beaches in Phuket.
Regarding lifeguards, according to the official report of the meeting issued by the Public Relations Department, V/Gov Prakob told the Chinese delegation, “The OrBorJor has set that lifeguards must be on 12 beaches and they are hiring 98 lifeguards.”
What V/Gov Prakob did get right is that Patong Municpality has hired their own lifeguards – 26 of them – to take care of beach safety there, though the delegation had already witnessed that firsthand yesterday morning.
Mr Li diplomatically thanked “Phuket” for taking very good care of Chinese tourists.
“The number of Chinese tourists coming to Thailand continues to rise. Over the past five years we have averaged about 3 million visitors a year, but this year more than 10 million are expected to come,” Mr Li said.
“The Chinese Government has issued advisories for Chinese nationals to strictly follow the law while they are in Thailand for their own safety,” he said.
“Whatever Phuket suggests, we will pass on through our public relations arms,” he added.
Turning his focus specifically to the issue of lifeguards, Mr Li gave a special thank you to all lifeguards, especially those at Patong Beach.
“Those guys are experienced and Patong Beach has very good warning signs for tourists,” Mr Li noted.
“However, I am aware that some of the beaches have lifeguards that are not experienced enough because they are just volunteers who want to help, but are not that experienced.
“I would like to ask Phuket to develop lifeguards on every beach to be professional and experienced to make sure they can provide good care of tourists, and to make sure that warning signs are provided at every beach,” Mr Li urged.
As a point of comfort for the Thai officials present, Mr Li also noted, “Thailand and China are still good friends and we have issued a travel adivsory warning tourists not to come.”
Mr Li also raised concern about Chinese tourists drowning in hotel pools.
“I would like to ask Phuket to ask cooperation from hotels to warn tourists and set up signs to warn people to be careful while swimming for their own safety,” he said.
“Also, regarding the renting out of motorbikes, this is good. It is good to ask for driving licences – and to make sure that Phuket (officials) keep on enforcing this on rental shops to make sure that the shops follow the safety instructions. That will help to make the tourists safer, too,” Mr Li concluded.
* At last report police confirmed that heavy vehicles were banned from crossing Patong Hill from 6am-9am and 4pm-11pm. See story here.