Police under pressure to get ready
A police conference has heard that Thailand could see a sizeable increase in tourist arrivals once the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) begins in 2015. In less than three years, ten Asian countries including Thailand are scheduled to begin a regional free-trade area which will also facilitate easier travel between neighbouring states. Police General Vudh Liptapanlop suggested that foreign arrivals could rise by 50 percent to a grand annual total of 28 million, and even higher in later years as the AEC develops its policies for trade, industry and tourism.
He made a number of suggestions for effective preparation for the expected human influx including the all-importance of the Tourist Police learning fluent English. The AEC has adopted English as its international language of principal use. “The Tourist Police are at the centre of the issues connecting foreign visitors and the authorities and need to overhaul their language skills by crash courses if necessary,” said Police General Vudh. The Tourist Police in Pattaya have long understood the need for language fluency which was a principal reason for the introduction of foreign tourist police assistants who now number nearly 50 in the city.
Meanwhile the Immigration Bureau commissioner, Police Lieutenant General Wiboon Bangphamai, has confirmed that all Thailand’s international airports will have a new, automated system of checking international arrivals in order to avoid the long queues which have been the subject of much recent criticism. The Advance Passenger Processing (APP) is state-of-the-art technology which permits passengers simply to walk through check-points without needing to have their passports stamped.
No firm date has been set for the introduction of APP but it will be before the start of the AEC reforms in 2015. Current questions include the cost of the technology, whether to charge passengers a servicing fee and the exact procedures to be followed when a black-listed foreigner, or one with an outstanding arrest warrant, attempts to enter or leave the country. Immigration officials freely admit that the current manual system of passport checking would not be able to cope with an increase to 28 million visitors a year.
From 2015 all AEC member countries should be able to travel in the region with relative ease. This means an intensive drive to exchange vital information among immigration officials from each of the member states. Assistant commissioner-general, Police Lieutenant General Jate Mongkolhutti, said that overseas terrorism and human trafficking were areas of concern. “The last thing we want is for international criminals to conduct activities here or to use the region to hide out,” he said.
Many observers think that the Thai police have a lot of work to do to ensure that the 2015 transition works smoothly. A senior office told Pattaya Today, “There needs to be closer collaboration between the various divisions of the police, including Tourist and Immigration, to ensure that incoming and outgoing passengers are checked thoroughly, not only at the point of entry and exit, but also during their stay.” He added that the requirement on hotel and condo managements to notify changes of address of their guests needed to be more strongly enforced.