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Minor Group's premium Anantara Resort at Mai Khao on Phuket

Phuket Resorts Chief Pleads: End Travel Alerts

Tuesday, June 8, 2010
ONE of Phuket's and Thailand's most influential hospitality industry chiefs is calling on the ambassadors of all nations to lift travel warnings and alerts for Thailand.

''One of the most pressing concerns is to clarify that Thailand is now a safe country to visit,'' writes William E. Heinecke, head of the Minor Group, which owns the Anantara Phuket Resort, among other properties on Phuket. Minor employs 25,000 people throughout the country.

''Foreign visitors in every part of Thailand experienced no malevolence, ill treatment or any cause for concern from the Thai people, and instead continued to receive the warm welcome that Thailand is so famous for.

''We strongly believe that the time has come for international embassies to lift the travel warnings and restrictions that are in place for Bangkok and all of Thailand.''

The difficulty is that each nation has its own independent alerts, making for a system where some nations adjust their alerts quickly while others leave alerts in place for long periods.

About 45 countries have each issued alerts for Thailand at different times and to different levels over the past few months, scaring tourists unnecessarily.

Phuketwan wishes Mr Heinecke the best of luck. A co-ordinated response from the Bangkok diplomatic community is as likely to be achieved as a coordinated global system to replace the chaotic nation-by-nation alerts that caused most of the unnecessary pain and suffering in the first place.

Here is the full text of Mr Heinecke's email:

An Open Letter: To the Ambassadors of all Nations Represented in Thailand

cc: Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Minister of Finance, Khun Korn Chatikavanij, Minister of Tourism and Sports, Khun Chumphol Silpa-archa, TAT Governor, Khun Suraphon Svetasreni

Your Excellency,

As one of the largest companies in Thailand, employing more than 25,000 people through its many brands, Minor Group, has a duty to think of the wellbeing of its staff, and indeed the wellbeing of millions who are employed directly and indirectly from the Thai tourism industry and beyond. The tourism industry is a vital driver of the Thai economy, and hence it is the role of Minor, and all businesses, to join together and unite all efforts in order to accomplish what is necessary for the economy's rapid return to good health.

One of the most pressing concerns is to clarify that Thailand is now a safe country to visit. The curfew has been lifted and all hotels and tourist attractions are welcoming guests as usual. Indeed while certain areas of Bangkok suffered from the demonstrations, visitors to the Kingdom continued to enjoy their holidays in the capital and throughout Thailand which remained open for travel during the uncharacteristic events of May. Now, with daily life having returned to complete normality nationwide and the Thai people reacting quickly to ensure that visitors can fully enjoy the wonders of one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, it is crucial to publicise that Thailand is peaceful.

It is also imperative to assert that tourists were never a target during the protests. Foreign visitors in every part of Thailand experienced no malevolence, ill treatment or any cause for concern from the Thai people, and instead continued to receive the warm welcome that Thailand is so famous for.

We strongly believe that the time has come for international embassies to lift the travel warnings and restrictions that are in place for Bangkok and all of Thailand. The Kingdom's image has been tarnished by recent critical, and at times unfair, media coverage, and this impression needs to be addressed. We must understand that in international terms, a demonstration in Paris or Athens would not shut down the Cote d'Azur or Corfu!

As a citizen of Thailand and a member of the business community, I feel that it is my duty to reach out to you and seek your assistance at this point in time. I also feel that it is my role to showcase to the world through all available channels that the nation as a whole is peaceful, tranquil and safe. We are confident that people still wish to travel to Thailand, but remain hesitant due to obstacles such as the inability to obtain travel insurance and feel safe in making travel plans due to the travel warnings and restrictions issued from their home country.

The time has come to rebuild international visitors' confidence, and barriers to travel to Thailand now need to be lifted. Such efforts will serve as a vital first step in support of the Kingdom and the people of Thailand, and the sooner that this objective is achieved, the sooner that the tourism industry and Thailand can begin its journey to a full recovery. Some nations have already taken the necessary steps and we thank them for their leadership and collaboration.

I ask the Diplomatic community to support the people of Thailand, the economy, and take the necessary measures that will allow the nation to prosper once again.

Yours sincerely, William E. Heinecke

Phuketwan called several embassies today to ask whether Mr Heinecke's letter has been received and whether the ambassadors plan responses. Messages were left at the Australian, German and British Embassies. A spokesman at the US Embassy said that the US travel alert for Thailand had been lifted on June 3.

A spokesperson for the British embassy called back to note their warnings, revised on June 3, described the situation in Thailand as ''generally calm following recent political and civil unrest. There have been no serious incidents of violence since 21 May.''

A spokesman called back on behalf of the German embassy and was keen to make the point that Germany lifted its warning for Bangkok and the north-east on May 29. He also noted that Germany had never had a warning in place for Phuket and the region around it.
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Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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Heinecke has his work cut out. Undoubtedly Thailand is a safe place by world standards, unless people behave idiotically, however the world's public servants are more in the business of damage prevention, ie preventing damage to their careers. This is why they won't lift the warnings.

Posted by Anonymous on June 8, 2010 14:11

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As Mencken said, and I tend to agree, "For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong."

Editor: Was Mencken talking about the theory of evolution or prohibition?

I am sure this does not apply to you, Jean, but as Clive James wrote (probably about travel warnings): ''Stupidity is mainly just a lack of capacity to take things in.''

Posted by Jean Blaireau on June 8, 2010 15:35

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Opinions of those with vested interests will always be taken with a grain of salt.

PhuketWan seems to be on a mission to crucify the travel warnings. Fine by me - everyone has the right to their opinion and it's good that this subject is being discussed.

What we need are the opinions and thoughts of independent persons with no vested interests in Thailand. Since I live here, I would not qualify either.

I have many friends who own hotels, guesthouses or restaurants that are suffering terribly and they all would love to see the travel advisories lifted. That doesn't impact my take on the issue, though.

As pointed out in a previous comment, the risk for different nationalities is not uniform. Israelis in arabic countries, americans in certain other arabic or muslim countries, Greek in Turkey etc.

As applaudable as a central travel advisory agency might be, it would have to take in account the role the nationality, race and even religion plays in security risk assessment.

It would make no sense to have a central agency to issue such warnings when it would de facto have to assess the risk for so many different nationalities. The respective governments of these nations are much better equipped to do that and naturally also more interested in doing so.

Since the nations have to shoulder the costs and impact of any repatriation or emergency abroad, it would be unthinkable that these nations would not be allowed to issue such warnings as to how they see fit.

It is clear that there is an attempt to protect financial interests here by several individuals and media but the decision about safety should not be based on such interests.

Editor: Tourists are not being targetted in Thailand yet the travel alerts are written as though they are in great and constant danger. While some alerts highlight the four southern provinces where the insurgency poses special risks, few alerts highlight the Andaman provinces, where the dangers are no greater than in tourists' home countries. In the vast majority of instances, risks when travelling apply equally despite race, religion or nationality. Individual nations can continue to warn their citizens by registration and using text messages and email in special cases, but the travellers of the world deserve a better system. The point is not that there are financial interests involved, but that the pain and suffering of thousands of innocent people is unnecessary and easy to avoid. If a worker loses their job because of a travel alert, I guess you would argue they have a vested interest and therefore shouldn't complain.

Posted by Amazing Thailand on June 8, 2010 16:14

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And as we tend to say en Provence, "Litera scripta manet". And for the educated out there, no, it's nothing to do with a French painter.

Posted by Jean Blaireau on June 8, 2010 16:57

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I agree with you that many people in the travel industry will suffer and that is tragic. However to blame the travel advisories for this is like shooting the messenger. It is not the warnings that are the cause here, it's the civil unrest that has erupted in past few years in Thailand. A worker, as you use as an example here, has not invested in the company but individuals like Mr Heinecke are in a totally different league. You make an unfair comparison, I must say.

Perhaps this energy spent on lamenting foreign countries would be better spent on studying the underlying issues of these violent riots.

I also agree I do not fear for any unusual violence here in Phuket, life goes on as usual. There have been a few incidents before but that happens just about everywhere.

It is correct that in most countries nationality, race or religion plays no role in terms of security. However looking at Thailand specifically, which this is all about, one must say that these factors can't be ignored.

Starting with nationalities, there is a greatly elevated risk for Burmese, Cambodian and Laotioan nationals in Thailand.

As to race, though it may not directly constitute a security risk, African Americans and other foreigners with black or exceptionally dark skin are prone to discrimination here.

Religion is the key issue in the Southern unrest.

I don't mean to imply these lead directly to serious security issues, I merely wish to point out that in Thailand nationality, race and religion all account to security risk assessment, perhaps to a lesser degree than other factors but nevertheless they can't be ignored.

I think you are missing out on one important point here. There is no one such uniform group as "travellers of the world". We all come from different parts of the world with different views, habits, culture and political backgrounds. It is simply impossible to apply a "one size fits all" solution to this problem.

The suggestion of using SMS or emails instead of published warnings on official websites is not practical. In Germany alone about 40 million people travel abroad every year. Thailand recieves over 13 million tourists yearly. Take all the other countries that pose a security risk and you are talking about millions of personal messages per nation per year.

There is a reason why PhuketWan publishes it's reports online for everyone to see and does not email them individually to each reader.

If you truly believe your solution is practical, would you then be willing to have a central agency decide what news can be published that you wish to report on and if you disagree with them, you should either SMS or email readers directly ?

I think it's crystal clear to everyone that it would not work. You are a great advocate of free speech, evident in the fact that you keep publishing views in great contrast to yours but at the same time you wish to restrict the right of individual nations to issue warnings to their own citizens because they may cause damage to business and economy.

I find that somewhat hypocritical, sorry to say.

Editor: For a minute there, I thought I would survive a whole comment debating a principle without the issue being personalised. You almost made it.

Maintaining the status quo on travel alerts is not something that can be seriously argued. The reason? The current system doesn't work. It's damaging and ineffective. People no longer believe travel alerts, but they do still have the legal weight to stop tour groups flying. Several countries already supplement their alerts with registration, text message and email systems, so the ''technical failure'' part of your reasons for maintaining the present system fails straight away. To argue that an official national travel alert is the same as independently sourced news is really a sign of your struggle to find rational support for your case. Many embassies already discuss the information in their alerts with other embassies - then go away and issue them at different times, at different levels. Readers will know that I am not talking about individual risks to individual travellers of different backgrounds. Everybody understands that individual risks vary. There's little point in offering cracked arguments for the current cracked system.

Posted by Amazing Thailand on June 8, 2010 17:48

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Mmmm sounds like Squeaky bum time because someone is losing cash or not getting his usual Monthly bonus.

Posted by William Dale on June 8, 2010 23:14

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"Warning Will Robinson, warning! Travel Alerts need to be re-imposed".

http://www.bangkokpost.com/breakingnews/180579/pm-emergency-law-still-necessary

Posted by Peter Jones on June 9, 2010 11:22

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We've been trying for three years to convince both developers/builders and hotel executives to step up their security protocols so that Thailand and Phuket especially can be advertised as "The safest vacation destination in Asia". So far they have ignored our suggestions on how to do this over and above CCTV, alarm sensors and skinny guys with walkie-talkies and whistles sleeping in a booth.

Posted by Elliot on June 16, 2010 09:49


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