After coup and slayings, Thai authorities ponder tourist-tracking

Thai emergency workers secure the bodies of two British tourists on Koh Tao island on Sept. 15, a double slaying that threatens to further damage the country's tourism industry after a year of unrest and a military coup.
(AFP/Getty Images)

Yearlong political unrest followed by a military coup has cut deeply into Thailand’s vital tourist trade, and a grisly double slaying of British backpackers in mid-September has spurred fear of an even sharper plummet in foreign visits.

But a proposal by Tourism Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul to protect tourists by fitting them with tracking wristbands or saddling them with government minders is likely to land with a thud among patrons of the once party-hearty vacation land.

“When tourists check into a hotel they will be given a wristband with a serial number that matches their ID and shows the contact details of the resort they are staying in so that if they’re out partying late and, for example, get drunk or lost, they can be easily assisted,” Kobkarn was quoted as saying by the Bangkok Post.


“The next step would be some sort of electronic tracking device, but this has not yet been discussed in detail,” she said.

Kobkarn said her Tourism and Sports Ministry was considering the wristband model as a security precaution for all resort islands to make them safer for tourists after two British visitors were bludgeoned, the Phuket Gazette reported.

Limiting the times and venues at which tourists would be permitted to party on Thailand’s popular beaches was also being considered in response to the recent insecurity that appears to be deterring foreign visits, the minister observed.

The bodies of Britons Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, were found Sept. 15 on a beach on the southern island of Koh Tao hours after they were last seen at a nightclub party thrown by Thai soccer players, Britain’s Sky News reported, citing local police officials.

The British broadcaster also quoted Kobkarn as saying she was pondering party curfews and restrictions on where they can be held, as well as a “buddy system” in which foreign visitors would be paired with a local minder to deter any foul play.

Thailand has been under martial law since May, when the army chief staged a coup d’etat, deposing a teetering interim leadership after months of rebellion in Bangkok against populist Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.


The military junta in late August named coup leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha to take on the civilian mantle of prime minister, in a sign that a return to democracy and the rule of law isn’t likely soon despite the declared intention by the general at the time of the May 22 coup to restore elected leadership within a year.

Prayuth provoked anger among tourism purveyors and civil libertarians in mid-September when he suggested that women wearing bikinis were more vulnerable to attack. Authorities also have been cracking down on red-light districts in tourist areas, blaming Thailand’s entrenched sex trade for rising crime rates.

The sharp recent drop in tourist visits — 11% in July and 12% in August — was apparent well before the two Britons were killed, indicating that the hikers, divers and sunbathers who patronize Thailand have been discouraged more by the political unrest and military takeover than security worries. Follow @cjwilliamslat for the latest international news 24/7