Tourism Authority of Thailand

There was a tragic accident back in June 2011 that claimed the lives of three teenagers from England and now one of their mothers is trying to get Thai Government Organizations, like the Tourism Authority of Thailand, to post warnings in their guidebooks.

But, will the Thai Government Organizations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Tourism Authority of Thailand honor her request?  I doubt it.

In an article from Channel 4 News, The undocumented dangers of Thailand’s roads, John Sparks reports on the lack of warnings for tourists on just how unsafe the roads are in Thailand.  Would a warning in a travel eBook from the Tourism Authority of Thailand prevented the teens’ deaths?

It is a top tourist destination – but what the guidebooks don’t tell you is that Thailand’s roads are lethal. Now a group of mothers whose sons died in a bus crash are campaigning to change that.

There are a lot of things that the Tourism Authority of Thailand Guide Books don’t tell you. They don’t tell you about the scams at the Grand Palace, they don’t tell you about the jet ski scams and the taxi mafia in Phuket, they don’t tell you about padded bar bills in Pattaya, and on and on and on.  There are numerous scams all over Thailand that the Tourism Authority of Thailand doesn’t want you to know about.  It would damage the image of Thailand.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand didn’t want you to know the true status of the floods in Bangkok, Ayutthaya, and elsewhere in Thailand.  Their “situation updates” were 1-5 days old, inaccurate, incomplete, and many times, totally wrong.  But, the Tourism Authority of Thailand cannot paint a bleak picture for fear of losing even more tourists to the other nine ASEAN countries.

With the Christmas holidays winding down and the weather closing in, a winter break in the tropical sun starts to sound pretty good. No wonder January and February mark the high point in our unofficial “escape season”.

It is also termed “High Season” in Thailand except this year it looks like it will be a “Low Season” due to the piss-poor ways that the Tourism Authority of Thailand attempts to lure foreigners to Thailand.

Among a multitude of tempting destinations, more than 800,000 Britons strap themselves in for the 12 hour flight to Thailand – the majority no doubt, heading for the beach – or the historic, temple-laden cities in the north.

Most heading for the bars and bar girls in Pattaya.

The guidebooks will congratulate you on your choice – the country boasts “international standards” at an “affordable price”. In the “general information” section, you will also read about the dangers of sunstroke and malaria and sexual diseases. What you are unlikely to find however, is one critical bit of information: in Thailand, the roads are lethal.

Most of the info in the Tourism Authority of Thailand guidebooks are bullshit or outright lies.  You would need to go to forums, videos, Twitter or Facebook to get straight answers.  Remember, the Tourism Authority of Thailand cannot publish anything that damages the image of Thailand.

This is something four British women have recently come to realise. Before starting university, their sons grabbed their backpacks and left for a few weeks of fun and adventure – but their holidays in Thailand would cost them their lives.

Some of the responsibility has to be placed on the boys and their parents.  There is tons of information available online – not just from the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Bruno Melling Firth, Max Boomgaarden-Cook, and Conrad Quashie – all 19 years old – arrived in Thailand for a 9-week holiday in June. They had saved up all year for a final holiday together before starting university. Four days into their trip, they boarded a night bus in Bangkok. There were heading for the ancient city of Chang Mai, which lies 11 hours by road to the north.

If they would have just read the almost English online news media, the Bangkok Post and The Nation, for a few weeks prior to departure, they would have seen countless accidents – buses, trains, cars, motorcycles.  The Tourism Authority of Thailand doesn’t report this.

After a break at a road-side rest stop, the bus driver exited using the entrance road. He stopped the bus in the middle of a six lane highway as he tried to gain access to the other lane. The three boys, who were sitting at the back of the bus, saw another vehicle – an intercity bus – hurtling towards them. They even made a joke about it before they were hit.

Typical, unqualified, probably unlicensed bus driver.  Thai drivers have to be the worst in the world.

Five people in total lost their lives – a 20-year-old Korean was also killed. The highway was littered with twisted debris and mangled bus parts. A member of a volunteer ambulance crew captured the scene with a video camera – another gruesome crash site uploaded to YouTube.

I couldn’t get the video to work nor could I find it on YouTube.

Other than an early morning call – the sort all parents dread – the boys’ loved ones were told nothing of how their kids were killed.

Again, it would have damaged the image of Thailand if they were told the truth by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Six months later, the mothers of the deceased are still trying to find out why – when they thought bus travel in Thailand was safe.

Bus travel is probably the most dangerous in total numbers of lost lives and injured people since there are many on one bus.  Motorcycle accidents are ranked #1 in Thailand.  Bus travel at night is the most dangerous as drivers may be on drugs and think that since they are the biggest vehicles on the road, they always have the right of way.

“You know in many ways, we know very little of the actual accident, we’ve just be finding out bits and pieces,” Gillian Melling – the mother of Bruno Melling-Firth – told Channel 4 News. Gillian, together with Polly Cook, the mother of Max Boomgaarden-Cook, and Amanda Bean, the mother of Conrad Quashie, say the Thai authorities and the UK Foreign Office ignored their requests for information about the crash.

Because the UK FCO knows that they will not get any reliable information from the Thai Government or the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

We also met a Brighton-based solicitor called Rachel Cooper. She lost her son Felix in Thailand when the driver of the bus he was travelling in lost control and collided with a truck. Felix was thrown across the vehicle when his seat – which wasn’t bolted to the floor – came loose.

Vehicle inspections in Thailand are unheard of.

“We have looked at the guidebooks and we have looked at the Foreign Office website and there are just no warnings,” Rachel told Channel 4 News.

And, there won’t be any warnings from the Tourism Authority of Thailand.  It is political.  Can’t damage the image of Thailand.

“Sometimes they say buses ‘may drive fast’ but there are no real warning about the level of danger and the numbers of people who are killed,” she added.

They just reported on the number of road deaths for the first day of Seven Dangerous Days for the New Year and the officially reported number was 34.  Probably about 25% of the actual number of deaths.  Wouldn’t want to report the actual numbers because Thai Government Officials would get fired sent to an inactive post.  The Tourism Authority of Thailand won’t report it either.

Finding reliable statistics on the number of fatalities and injuries on the country’s roads is a tricky business. On the one hand, academics told us the numbers recorded by the Royal Thai Police were artificially low. On the other hand, the US State Department has ranked Thailand as the world’s second most dangerous country (after Honduras) in terms of the number of road fatalities suffered by American tourists.

Believe the US.  Never believe a Thai Government Organization when they mention numbers especially the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

In the course of our investigations, we met hard working officials from the Thai Ministry of Public Health who gave a startling batch of numbers. Using the accepted WHO definition on fatalities caused by road accidents, they told us 13,766 people were killed last year on the country’s roads – more than six times the rate in the UK (which has a similar population to Thailand).

One – you can’t compare the UK to Thailand even if their populations are similar.  People in the UK have gone to school, taking driving tests, and cannot bribe officials to get a license.

Two – 37 road deaths per day seems mighty low.

We were told this number could be far higher however, as roughly a third of accidents are thought to go unreported. Incredibly, we were also told that nearly a million people (938,958) were admitted to hospital due to injuries suffered by road accidents last year.

This number really sounds crazy – over 2,500 people per day admitted to hospitals for road accidents?  Again – never believe numbers from the Thai Government especially the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

The mothers of the four young men were shocked by these numbers – and now want others to know the facts.

You will never get facts from the Thai Government or the Tourism Authority of Thailand as discussed above.

“I would have given Max some money to travel by train or plane, if only I had known,” said Polly Cook.

Trains aren’t much better.  Was an accident this week where a lady ran through the train track wooden barrier and crashed into a train derailing two cars and killing herself.

They have pledged to honour the memory of their sons by pressuring the Thai government to raise safety standards – and last week they won themselves a meeting in London with senior Thai officials who have pledged to do more.

Good luck.  The Thai officials may smile, shake their heads, console you, but nothing will change.  They can pledge all they want but all they are going to do is make you think that they will do something so that you will leave.

It is a start – but the problem is immense. Thai drivers routinely flout the rules and the police rarely bother to enforce them – a situation described to me as “part of the culture” by one senior Thai official. That may be the case – but it is also unacceptable, particularly for a country which sells itself as a modern and desirable tourist destination.

It would take about 4 generations to get the Thai people to make a culturally accepted way of life.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand could help by posting warnings in their guidebooks, but they won’t.

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