Updated: August 10, 2021 05:27 AM GMT
A closed souvenir shop in the Patong area of Phuket. The murder of a Swiss tourist on the island is another setback for Thailand's devastated tourism sector. (Photo: AFP)
Thai authorities are struggling to restore confidence in the vital tourism industry after a tentative effort to reopen the country to foreign visitors is facing a setback following the murder of a Swiss tourist.
A 57-year-old Swiss woman visiting the resort island of Phuket in Thailand’s south was found dead under a black sheet in shallow water among rocks at a waterfall in a forested area on Aug. 5. An autopsy revealed that she had been raped and murdered.
Within days local police identified the suspect, a 27-year-old Thai man, who has since confessed to robbing and murdering the woman after he encountered her alone in the forest, according to police.
The suspect, who said he had been unemployed because of the pandemic, had told investigators he wanted to take the foreign tourist’s money to buy narcotics and other goods, police said.
Investigators uncovered CCTV footage that showed the suspect riding a motorcycle to the waterfall shortly before the tourist arrived.
Footage then showed him leaving the location three hours later on his motorbike.
The province and all stakeholders are working together to step up security for tourists
The murder of the Swiss national has received widespread attention in Thailand and reportedly many tourists in Phuket are so concerned about their safety that they prefer not to leave their hotels.
The case has also received extensive international coverage, which has further dampened hopes in the Southeast Asian nation in the midst of a raging Covid-19 outbreak that tourists could soon begin to return in droves to revive the moribund economy.
Thailand’s borders have been closed to mass tourism from abroad since March last year, but in a pilot project the island of Phuket was reopened on July 1 to fully vaccinated tourists without the need for a two-week quarantine on arrival.
Foreign tourists landing in Phuket, of whom some 14,000 have visited since early last month, are required to stay on the island for 14 days and undergo several Covid-19 tests before they can travel to other provinces around the country.
However, the extensive paperwork required of foreigners before their arrival has seen the scheme receive relatively low interest from international travelers.
The murder of the Swiss woman has raised further concerns about the advisability of going on holiday in Thailand during the pandemic.
Local authorities are seeking to allay such fears by saying they will step up security measures to protect foreign visitors.
“The province and all stakeholders are working together to step up security for tourists,” Narong Woonciew, the governor of Phuket, said at a press conference late last week.
The success of the Phuket tourism scheme is widely seen as a bellwether of the country’s new tourism fortunes.
Mass tourism accounts for a large share of GDP and the country drew 40 million visitors in 2019 before the pandemic.
Tourism recovery this year and next year still has to depend largely on the epidemic inside and outside Thailand
However, a near-total absence of foreign visitors over a prolonged period has proved ruinous for numerous tourism-related businesses and led to record unemployment.
Low-income earners working in the service industry have been especially hard hit during the pandemic.
Experts predict that no more than 1 million visitors could arrive in Thailand by the end of this year, down from 6.7 million last year.
At the same time, Thais, too, have been less eager to travel as Covid-19 continues to infect as many as 20,000 more people each day, according to official figures.
“Tourism recovery this year and next year still has to depend largely on the epidemic inside and outside Thailand, and the travel regulations of each country,” warned Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
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