Electronic tagging non starter

The suggestion of Thai Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul that foreign tourists should wear a wristband, embedded with an ID chip, has apparently been abandoned after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said it was unenforceable. The idea was brought up in the aftermath of the murder of two British tourists on the island of Koh Tao and was a somewhat hasty response to the apparent failure of the police quickly to find the murderers.

Actually, there were two proposals. The first was that tourists, on arrival at their Thai hotel, would be encouraged to wear a wristband with a serial number matching their ID contact details and the name of the hotel. At a later stage, the wristband could receive the additional security of an electronic chip which could even identify the location of the individual tourist through a global roaming system of some kind. A separate suggestion was that a Thai “buddy” could accompany foreign visitors during their vacation.

The minister said, “If tourists are out partying late and, for example, get drunk or lost, they can be easily assisted.” But she did emphasize that only the wearing of a wristband was to be introduced in the near future. Initially, the ideas brought a positive response from the Thai police who were struggling to identify the Koh Tao killers amid often wild and untrue red herrings in the Thai social media.

Tourism organizations were quick to point out the downside of monitoring tourists in this way. The wearing of wristbands could identify vulnerable people in holiday hotspots and beach resorts and make them more likely, rather than less, to be targeted by unsavory elements. There is also the psychological effect on visitors – being made to feel they are likely to be attacked or robbed.

A spokesperson for the Tourism Authority of Thailand in Pattaya said that it was unlikely that all tourists would agree to being tagged or escorted in any case. “It’s a worthy notion, but Pattaya is an international resort with scores of nationalities. The exercise would require a huge public relations campaign and implementation would be expensive. In any case, many tourists move around and don’t stay in the same hotel for the duration of their stay, so the information might become out-of-date.”

Barry Kenyon, press officer for the Pattaya Tourist Police Assistants, also doubted whether tagging would succeed. “A simpler and cheaper alternative would be to encourage tourists always to carry with them some form of ID. This would ideally be a laminated copy of their passport and a hotel card to show where they are staying.” He added that one of the major problems in Pattaya was not violence but the fact that some tourists simply forget the name and location of their hotel. “Some people don’t realize just how big Pattaya now is and imagine it’s simply a beach with a couple of streets behind.”

The UK-based website The Debrief commented, “In the case of the Koh Tao murders, believed to have been caused in part by a garden hoe which was found nearby covered in blood, we don’t think that tagging, electronic or otherwise, would have put the murderers off.”

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