Farang deaths

It’s a fact of life that around 100 Chinese tourists die in Thailand every year.  According to the Chinese embassy in Bangkok, the main causes are accidents on land drownings at sea.  A spokesman said that the Beijing authorities were now issuing  travel advice whilst encouraging the Thai side, especially in resorts such as Pattaya, to ensure that warning signs are in Chinese and not just in Thai or English.

Thailand welcomed about 8 million tourists from mainland China last year and the figure is likely to be larger this year.  Since 2012 the Chinese have been the biggest international group and they are also, contrary to gossip, the biggest spenders.  The Thai Tourist Authority is predicting at least 10 million Chinese tourists will arrive in the calendar year 2016. Last month the Chinese internet giant Baidu joined forces with the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) to launch 17,000 tourist attractions in the Chinese language on Baidu which will encourage Chinese visitors to explore the Kingdom by themselves.

TAT will also work with Baidu to introduce a smart guide in which Chinese visitors can use a QR code to listen to brief information on tourist destinations in Mandarin.  It has been launched as a pilot test at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok and the Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya.  Initial reports say both these venues have benefitted enormously from this new technology in boosting visitor numbers.  Tourism, when all is said and done, is one of the main driving forces of the Thai economy at the present time.

Now that Thailand is committed to annual tourist numbers of around 30 million, death does remain a problem subject.  The challenge is in figuring out how best to prevent fatalities amidst increasing numbers.  “We don’t want to see an increased rate of deaths, it leads to a loss of confidence amongst tourists as well as creating social problems in their own countries,” said Charoen Wangananont, president of the Thai travel agents’ association.

In recent months, a series of bad accidents have given the country bad publicity.  In January, a van accident in Phichit caused four Mexican tourists to lose their lives.  Several Brits have died in swimming or pool accidents. In February, an elephant trampled and gored  to death a Scottish tourist in Koh Samui, whilst a 52-year old French woman died after being struck by a boat whilst swimming off Krabi in an area reserved for snorkelers.

There is actually a website, Farang-Deaths.com, which summarizes the situation on an ongoing basis.  Statistics collected there reveal that around 200 farang have died in Thailand since the beginning of the year.  That number is probably too small as the site collects information only from English, Thai and German media and seems to neglect the much larger number of deaths amongst resident expats from natural causes such as heart attacks and strokes. Records also show that in the past two years 109 Australian tourists lost their lives in Thailand, a fact which may have been responsible for the decline in Australians visiting Thailand, according to TAT.  Other reasons were doubtless not death-related, for example, competition from other Asian destinations.

Informal evidence collected by a former official of the British embassy in Thailand suggests that around 300 British nationals die in Thailand every year.  The main reasons are lifestyle diseases, especially heart attacks and cancer, amongst the elderly resident expat population and these casualties rarely are reported in the local media, thus minimizing their impact.  Amongst young tourists, the main cause of death is riding a rented motorbike.  Many renters fail to realize that the engine sizes in Thailand tend to be greater than in Europe, whilst not everybody realizes that driving in the Land of Smiles is rather different in the safety stakes than back in the UK.  Several international reports have highlighted that road accidents in Thailand are amongst the highest in the world.

Although the media always report suicides, this mode of earthly termination is not a larger issue than most other world cities of a million or so people (in the busy season).  Nor is it always clear that suicide hasn’t been confused with accidental death, especially where falls from condos are concerned.  As regards murder of foreigners, this remains a subject sure to attract the media.  But the number remains in single figures in most years, perhaps surprisingly in view of the number of unlicensed guns said to be in circulation.

Everybody knows what should and could be done to reduce the number of accidental deaths in Thailand, both local and farang.  Public service vehicles, especially buses and minivans, need to checked regularly to ensure that their tyres and brakes are in good working order.  Road diversions and construction impediments on highways should be well-lit and easier to see in heavy rain when some of the most dreadful vehicle accidents occur.  These common sense solutions are obvious yet are far from being properly operational in Thailand.

As regards drunken driving, the Thai police have certainly stepped up their activities on main roads to suppress this evil, although rumours persist that income generation is at least as important as making the roads safer.  But the road blocks in cities such as Pattaya have certainly had some beneficial effect.  A recent survey of restaurants and bars showed that some drivers had changed their drinking habits specifically because of the increasing danger of being stopped and ordered to undergo a breath test.  A handful of well-publicized cases have illustrated that some farang have indeed been jailed, and in two cases deported, for driving under the influence of liquor.

Yet the overall problem of tourist deaths is still unresolved.  Tourist safety needs to be made a national agenda subject, ranking with issues such as human trafficking, corruption and illegal fishing.  Only when every party gets seriously involved, will the subject be dealt with seriously enough.  In the end, prevention is always better than cure.

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