The call for increased safety measures follows the death of 57-year-old Swiss tourist Nicole Sauvain-Weisskopf, whose body was found near the Ao Yon Waterfall on Phuket’s east coast yesterday.
“I would like to say I am deeply saddened for the loss, her family, and the people of Switzerland,” Mr Phiphat said, speaking at the Sandbox Emergency Operation Center (EOC) in Phuket Town this afternoon (Aug 6), also attended by Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew.
“The Ministry of Tourism and Sports and the Ministry of Foreign Affair have expressed our condolences to the Embassy of Switzerland. The incident is unexpected, and no person wants things like this to happen,” he said.
“The incident should have never happened to anyone. As Gen Suwat suggested, we must have safety measures at all tourist attractions in Phuket, both popular places and natural places like the scene of the incident,” Mr Phiphat continued.
“I want to have teams of staff to screen people entering and exiting the places, we need to set the entrance and exit for each place to be the same point, so that it will be easy to screen,” he added.
“You can say this is “Wau Hai Lom Khok” [‘locking the stable door after the horse is stolen’] because every incident becomes our lesson. We still need to learn and apply what we learn all the time,” he said.
“Most importantly, I want everyone in Phuket to be the eyes and ears for our officials, especially those who live near the tourist attractions. If you see anything suspicious, please inform our police or officers. We all need to work together,” he said.
“A measure presented in the meeting which may disturb arrivals’ privacy was to check personal information and criminal history of arrivals at all ports before allowing them to enter Phuket,” Mr Phiphat noted.
“Another measure is to install more CCTV cameras in each area. There may be insufficient cameras on the island. The Phuket Governor will talk with relevant officers to file a budget [request] for this,” he said.
SANDBOX WILL CONTINUE
The safety of tourists in Thailand must be improved, and the Phuket Sandbox scheme will continue, Mr Phiphat said.
“The Phuket Sandbox still needs to continue. To make the island and country safe, the present time is the most important because Thailand was ranked 110th for tourist safety among 150 countries,” Mr Phiphat said.
“We need to unite together to make our country safer to be ranked lower than 100th. We may not be able to do so this year, but I expect that we can make it next year,” he said.
“This is to tell the world that we are taking a step up for tourist safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. We had not done very well in terms of safety in the past because we have had more tourists than our staff can handle.
“In 2019, we had about 40 million of tourists, but right now we have a lot of time for preparation and taking action to improve.
“However, it needs a budget to do anything. We have spent huge budgets to fight COVID-19. Right now, to spend a budget on something else may need a discussion with the appropriate members of the government,” Mr Phiphat said.
National police chief Gen Suwat said that he had been instructed by the prime minister to ensure all efforts were made to catch the killer.
“By this morning, extra police officers were brought to investigate the scene and to support the operations of the police in the area, and the instructions sent down by the central government confirm that the police themselves will use their ability to track the case to clarify what had happened as soon as possible,” Gen Suwat said.
“The Phuket Provincial Government has also said that it is important to speed up action to set measures that will restore confidence, so that every square inch of Phuket is very safe,” he added.
Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew this afternoon repeated his message of condolences for Ms Sauvain-Weisskopy’s family and friends.
“The relevant officials will expedite the investigation into what happened and bring justice to Ms Nicole. Please rely on our best efforts to closely monitor this case,” he said.
Bhummikitti Raktaengam, President of the Phuket Tourist Association, said that the safety of tourists is the highest guarantee that Phuket is a world-class tourist destination.
However, he added, “The number of police officers here is small, not balanced with Phuket being a tourist destination.”
“There are two phases of building confidence, the first phase is to find the offender as quickly as possible in order to clarify to the community our priorities, and to restore confidence. The second phase is long-term planning so that this kind of incident doesn’t happen again.
“This means having to take into account the number of officers, which must be sufficient to achieve the objective. On this occasion, I would like to represent 16 private organisations who will support the government in working to build safety and build confidence in all dimensions,” he said.
Thanet Tantipiriyakij, Chairman of the Phuket branch of the Tourism Council, said that the council was also ready to support the government in building confidence in tourism
“The safety of tourists is important to building the confidence and image of Phuket,” he said.
A slew of heightened safety and security measures were presented at the meeting today.
Among them were greater research to identify which locations tourists travel to within the country, and installing more CCTV cameras in key areas to increase the security of tourists.
“Establish measures to take care of tourists starting with procedures on arrival at the airport, and the close monitoring of tourists,” Mr Thanet said.
“For example, in the event that a traveler leaves a hotel to another place to stay, the hotel should have verifiable information. Or in the case of tourists staying at a hotel, when tourists go out to do activities the hotel staff should observe each day whether or not the tourists have returned to the hotel.
“If a tourist is found to be missing and the hotel suspects something may have happened, the tourist should be called to confirm that [he or she] is safe, and that information should be reported to government officials.
CCTV AND COMMUNITY PATROLS
Tourism Minister responded to several of the suggestions and issues raised.
“As for the issue of the lack of police personnel, which prevents them from performing their duties comprehensively, the community should help,” he said.
“People such as village headmen [Phu Yai Baan], subdistrict chiefs [Kaman], officers from local government organisations [municipalities etc] can volunteer to be eye-witnesses and take care of tourists. This will allow Phuket Sandbox to create a concrete model of taking care of tourists,” Mr Phiphat added.
“As for the installation of CCTV cameras, Phuket Provincial Government has now completed a project to request a budget from the government to install CCTV cameras, which the Prime Minister has given importance to this matter,” he noted.
“Also, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society has been assigned to support the provincial government by providing the relevant technology to use to help male the area safer and more secure instead of using manpower,” Mr Phiphat continued.
“The Thai government would like to express its condolences over the incident. The Prime Minister acknowledges what has happened and has ordered all parties to do their best regarding what needs to be done.”
Although recognised as not overly respectful at this point in time following the death of Ms Sauvain-Weisskopf, Mr Phiphat did note for the record that the Ministry of Tourism & Sports has a fund to compensate tourists up to B1 million in case of injury or death.