Regulations must be tightened and enforced to clamp down on tourist scams, which Mr Sutham branded a “a chronic problem”. Tackling the problem requires the travel industry to work closely with the government to resolve the issue, he added.
The call for action follows an increase in bogus hotel booking websites that take credit card payments in advance from tourists and then cancel the bookings with the hotels once they have payments.
There have been hundreds of complaints by tourists that they were unable to secure refunds, or contact the booking sites after they realised their bookings had been cancelled.
“There are many types of scams particularly fake tour operators and tour guides, selling programmes and fake hotel reservations services through online bookings,” Mr Sutham acknowledged.
Online bookings for hotel reservations is one of the channels scammers use to take advantage of travellers and this form of scam is increasing annually.
“Every year there are over 1,000 complaints to the department on tourism scams… mostly about tour operators who do not deliver what they promised when selling tour programmes,” Mr Sutham said.
“It is happening to overseas visitors booking programmes and domestic travellers who book hotels in Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket.”
The department claims it needs more cooperation from related authorities such as the tourist police, but the director claimed he strictly checked tour operators who sell tour programmes and are registered with the department.
But there is a massive loophole as the department has no authority over online travel agencies that do not need to register, according to the law. The definition of a travel agency is limited to the traditional business model. Online travel agencies (OTAs) are not required to register with the department.
The department will sign an agreement with the Professional Tourist Guide Association of Thailand, Association of Thai Travel Agents, Thai-Chinese Tourism Alliance Association, and Tourist Police Division to tighten and enforce regulations for traditional tour operators and tour guides particularly in the China market, the director explained on a Thai PBS channel’s People’s Station programme.
“Tour guides must follow the rules, particularly the one that states they cannot sell tour products on buses… There must be no threats, or attempts to force tourists to buy products, while tour operators must hire Thai tour guides to legally work for their companies… Thai tour guides must be on the tour bus at all times.
“If they fail to adhere to the regulations, they will lose their membership from the associations and their license will be suspended,” he stated.
The department, however, is powerless to deal with travel agencies that conduct all their sales online. An agency that ends its traditional counter sales and direct contact with travel consumers and adopts an online marketing and sales presence would no longer be obliged to register with the department as its definition of a travel agency does not include companies that sell travel content online through booking websites.
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