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Jim McCoy: Time for Phuket to sort out its jet-ski and tuk-tuk woes

Phuket Drownings Difficult to Solve, Says Veteran Travel Agent

Monday, July 2, 2012
PHUKET: A leading travel agent in Australia says he believes Phuket will quickly recover from the murder of Michelle Smith but that drownings will probably continue to be a major concern.

''The drowning deaths on the beaches have been a major concern for as long as I have been travelling to Phuket, now over 25 years,'' said Jim McCoy, general manager of Sydney-based Specialist Holidays.

''It is almost impossible to resolve this one as it really is the responsibility of the swimmer. We have the same issues here and our beaches are patrolled.

''The problem is that tourists from countries that do not have beaches are not aware of the treacherous nature of open water and the savage rips that sweep the Phuket beaches in the low season.

I don't think this is going to change greatly in the future. Maybe resorts should have a printed statement in many languages in every room about the dangers and need to stay out of the water at all beaches in low season.

''The one element that can be fixed is the deaths with things like white water rafting. These occur mainly due to poor operators, no real safety measures and a total lack of skilled operators.

[There were two whitewater drownings north of Phuket, with seven tourists drowned on Phuket beaches, between May 18 and June 30.]

''It is all bodgy stuff. This needs much stronger legislation about operation standards and a force to implement them and monitor these companies.

''Very strict operation standards, training standards and penalties for not meeting these guidelines. Stamp out the poor ones and assist the good ones.''

Mr McCoy, whose connections with Phuket go back to 1988, believes last month's murder of Michelle Smith needs to be put in context.

''This is not the first time a tourist has died in these sorts of circumstances in Thailand, nor Australia nor most other countries in the world,'' he said.

''This incident seems to have gained very high media coverage both in Australia and in Thailand, but the death of the two Canadian sisters in Phi Phi a couple of weeks ago seems to have been rather less high-profiled.

''Police moved quickly and caught those responsible. We hear of murders and stabbings in Sydney almost every day so why should Thailand with three times Australia's population be any different?

''We also we had an Australian tourist murdered in Bali just last week. This did not attract the same attention? Why?

''The fact that Michelle Smith was a travel agent on a familiarisation trip and is female probably brought more media attention than if she was 'just another tourist'.

''It is sad but I do not expect there will be any long term effects from this either to Thailand's image nor Phuket's popularity.

''What needs to be highlighted is the need to always be cautious in ANY destination where there are tourists and hence criminal types as they prey on the more affluent.

''The bigger picture is what is the local government and local police going to do about the bigger issues of the criminal activities in Patong.

''The rip-off merchants, the mafia-controlled beach operators, jet-skis and the like, the tuk-tuk and taxi problems, the touts and the bar operators who are into spiking drinks.

''These are bigger problems and will have a great impact if not stamped out very quickly.''


Comments have been disabled for this article.


The suggestion for hotels to provide multilingual warning signs in their guest rooms is a good one. It would make sense for these signs to be standardized in design.

Perhaps Phuketwan can create a downloadable sign template that hotels can then print out - I would certainly place these in my guest rooms


Posted by Simon Luttrell on July 2, 2012 08:38

Editor Comment:

Saving these lives is the responsibility of the tourism industry, Simon. Specifically, the people who earn a living and in many cases a handsome profit from tourism. As you may not have understood, Phuketwan - which does none of the above - advocates a warning as all flights descend to Phuket, a direct verbal warning in the appropriate language on check-in, and the positioning of a ''Today's Beach Conditions'' sign at each lobby entrance. Just because we've published Jim McCoy's view does not mean we agree with him. Signs in rooms will be overlooked by most people in their haste to get to the beach and enjoy the swimming holiday they've paid for. Then when a guest drowns, the management will turn around and say: 'Ah, but we had a sign in the room.' There's a large expat marketing community who could help with this.


Why don't you create your own sign, Simon. The time that you spend writing in internet forums could be put to better use.

Posted by Mac on July 2, 2012 09:04


@Mac, a nice suggestion, but my knowledge of written Chinese, Russian etc is rather limited.

I think it's important that if a sign is to placed in hotel guest rooms, then it should be created by professionals who understand what text is required to get the message across. The words need to be correctly spelt in each language - none of the Tinglish that we see so often on signs in Thailand.

I like the sign idea - and I think it would be a small step to help to reduce the number of drownings.

Posted by Simon Luttrell on July 2, 2012 09:58


There is no shortage of native speakers to correct any mistakes in translation Simon. Try asking some of your guests to help. I'm sure they would be more than pleased to help if it could prevent one more death. When completed create a downloadable file on your website for general use by any other hotels or businesses. It is not PW's job to do your work for you. They do a great service in providing news and information already. It's up to you to help your customers with any information you can.

Posted by Mac on July 2, 2012 10:31


Jim seems to be a sensible guy, who put things perfectly into context.

Posted by stevenl on July 2, 2012 10:58


Mac, please read my previous message. I am a hotelier, not a writer. It is vital that if a warning sign is created, then the text and phrasing is carefully thought out by professionals, to ensure that the message gets across.

I would have thought that a journalist would be far better experience to achieve that, not me.

Let's see if there are any safety professionals reading this post who could contribute to the discussion

Posted by Simon Luttrell on July 2, 2012 11:02


There was a song, many years ago, but one line of it is very pertenant, it went along a bit like this "signs signs, everywhere signs", it basically meant, too many signs so they are ignored, you can never prevent all drownings, there is just too many fools or unaware people, but, during the daylight hours, the best solution, effective lifeguards who PATROL the beaches, not sleeping in their deckchairs or on their jet ski's, they should be backed up by the police, first warn the swimmer, if ignored,fine them 10000 baht and/or in the monkey house, for their own safety as well as the safety of the lifeguards (or who ever tries to rescue them), the fine can go towards providing internationally recognised training and provide more equipment.
People on holiday will rarely read any leaflets in their room or listen to any verbal warnings from someone who barely speaks their language at the check in counter, as for verbal announcements at the airport, really not much thought went into that idea. I await the debate, especially if ANYONE can say I am wrong.

Posted by dbate on July 2, 2012 11:05

Editor Comment:

dbate, the concept of people being enticed to take a beach holiday only to be arrested for trying to swim certainly highlights the dilemma faced by Phuket. Make it plain when and where it's safe to swim, or stop encouraging people to come.


To Simon,
try this link

for multilangual signs. They are created for Australia, but most of them are applicable for Phuket as well.

Posted by Anonymous on July 2, 2012 12:36


Many of us here who knew Michelle could never go or return there. One day many will forget and go. But, as long as the stories go on about rip off merchants etc. FORGET about it. RIP Michelle, killed by known crooks. In a town of mafia riddled rip off merchants. Hurry up the govt there and actually fix it and not be typical govt people and talk about it.

Posted by David on July 2, 2012 12:44

gravatar we all know, Phuket is NOT a year round summer holiday, tourist should be warned of ALL dangers, scams etc, as many tourists come via tour agents, under "Duty of Care" the agents should be warning their customers, or, if the tourist books online, there should be a warning, which has to be aknowledged before their booking is confirmed.

Posted by dbate on July 2, 2012 13:01

Editor Comment:

No destination can be expected to tout its deficiencies in advance, dbate. Individuals are responsible for doing their research. Warnings at point of sale would be quite unreasonable. But once the aircraft starts its descent, a community ''duty of care'' certainly applies.


Mr McCoy has some sound opinions;most people book their holiday under a package deal and it is the duty of the tour firm or guide to inform the customer of the dangers but I suppose they will not as they may lose a sale. @Ed;I do not think a warning on the plane as it comes in to land will work as most people ignore the safety briefings on planes. I have seen many signs on the beaches warning of the dangers and red flags flying. If tourists chose to ignore them and swim, then more fool on them.

Posted by Mal on July 2, 2012 13:35

Editor Comment:

People need to be warned at every opportunity, Mal. You may ignore warnings in flight. Others do not. You may note the red flags and understand what they mean. Others do not. You may ignore a verbal warning at check-in. Others will not. That's the whole point: a multiple series of layered warnings are necessary to cater to all types of people, because all kinds come to Phuket. Perhaps there will be some way of treating your lack on sensitivity one day, too.


@Ed;lack of sensitivity is a bit harsh.There are many ignorant people in this world and there is nothing that can be done to help them. People have to take responsibility for themselves. I would not want to see Thailand turn into some "nanny state" like we have in England. Also, I do watch the safety briefing on the plane!

Posted by Mal on July 2, 2012 13:54

Editor Comment:

Let the ''ignorant people'' die? Lack of sensitivity may be putting it mildly, Mal.


Ok, let's try to help both sides, Tourists and Phuket:
Out of my own experience, the beach guards have problems, with getting ignored. A couple of times, I've seen it on different beaches, like Kata, Karon or Nai Harn. They place their flags and try to make people understand, to walk 30m, to get into the yellow/red flagged zone.
I think, the whistle plus hand signs isn't enough communication, in many cases. And getting ignored (face loosing) is not the best motivation.

But: Phuket has lots of loudspeakers, in the warning system, along the beaches. Why not test them regular, every (2?) hour(s) in daylight, minimum during Low season, with multiple language announcements about the danger currents and the flag system. There are lots of different languages available, in the volunteer teams of the Immigration police. Also committed travel agents will be happy, to sort that out.
Besides that Phuket gets a proper testing of the Tsunami warning system (the beach guards can report malfunction/stolen speaker before an alert ;-), this way it is done officially by the authorities, cause they control the system. This may help the tourists to understand, how dangerous it may be and creates a good image for Phuket. Also the announcement can (should) be forwarded as a letter of concern to the hotels and guesthouses on the island. As e-mail, or as download from a TAT/Phuket website, to get it on every pillow and shown on every reception desk. This letter of concern should have a brief explanation, how rip currents are different, to other currents. And how to deal with them, if in one. And that swimming in the night .....!
If someone starts arguing, the people will not understand the saying from the speaker tower, like I did hear from the Tsunami Alert, Phuket would have another serious problem to solve. If it is so, more speaker, probably in better quality, would be needed.
btw, more speaker reduce the needed volume, and makes everything better understandable and less disturbing.

Posted by ??? on July 2, 2012 14:41


@Ed; I did not say let the "ignorant people" die; I simply said there is nothing that can be done to help if they cannot help themselves.There are clear signs on the beach in different languages,red flags are flying and everyone should know that the sea can be a dangerous place-basic education.The majority of drownings are adults not children who should be supervised by their parents in any event

Posted by Mal on July 2, 2012 14:51

Editor Comment:

The resorts appear to play no part in your life saving plan, Mal. And there are signs at some beaches, but not other beaches. Does this mean some tourists at some beaches are more intelligent than others?


@Ed; Most drownings appear to be on the most popular beaches; ie Karon, Kata and Patong all of whom have signs and fly flags. I also think alcohol plays a major role in most drownings. I would not call these intelligent people.

Posted by Mal on July 2, 2012 15:46

Editor Comment:

What are you telling us now, Mal? People of insufficient intelligence deserve to drown? And you know they've all been drinking?


@Ed;It has been reported in PW that the recent drownings invloved alcohol;ie the Russian guy and what was the Chinese guy swimming in Patong beach at night? Do you call that intelligent behavior? RIP to both of them and condolences to their families but what amount of safety measures can be done for them?

Posted by Mal on July 2, 2012 16:03

Editor Comment:

People swim at night because they're here on a beach holiday and they figure it's safe. It would just be guesswork to know whether or not they've been drinking, and whether or not they've been adequately warned. From the survivors we've talked to, lack of sufficient warnings is by far the biggest deficiency. Unless there are repeated warnings, Phuket hasn't done all it can to prevent needless deaths.


I would be very interested to obtain Mr McCoy's company holiday literature to see if (i) he advertises 'summer' season for 'low' season & (ii) what photographs he has attached (bet they are high season photos showing clear blue sky & sunshine with mirror flat calm beaches) & (iii) if there are any warnings contained in his brochures for 'summer' or 'low' season.

Posted by Logic on July 2, 2012 16:17

Editor Comment:

It's not the responsibility of travel agents to warn individuals about dangers at destinations (rabies in Bali, for example.) The responsibility for ensuring tourists have a safe, secure holiday begins as they leave the airport. It should involve the destination's entire community. You seem to have the finger-pointing disease, Logic: ''It's not my problem, it's them.''



Posted by dbate on July 2, 2012 19:14

Editor Comment:

Total nonsense, dbate. Your opinion is not wanted here, unless you have something constructive to add. And that is a very, very, faint chance.


I really don't understand your comment, Ed. What do you mean by finger pointing disease? Should salesmen not take some responsibility for their product? I already posted recently that travel agents in the UK are selling summer season holidays with high season photos, but when I queried this with them, they simply did not know any better. You clearly state Mr McCoy does know Phuket very well & I was curious as to whether his sales pitch is different. No harm in asking, is there?

Posted by Logic on July 2, 2012 20:22

Editor Comment:

I suspect that most independent travellers - including Australians - looking to holiday on Phuket begin with the online sites of the resorts. At least that's what my friends have done. When it comes to booking time, they may well go to a travel agent. But Logic, forgive me for asking, why do you use the word ''summer''? I thought you were criticising others for possible misrepresentation? Is that a word you use often, or are you just prone to accidental exaggeration now and again? Surely you should be honest and talk about the monsoon/wet/green season?

Just asking.


Why not changes the red warningflags on the beaches to black flags with picture of a skull. I believe picture of a skull is a very wellknown sign of, risk of death, everywhere in the world, and bring the warning in question, without any words, more effectivily to people coming coming to Phuket from all corner of world.

Posted by Peter on July 3, 2012 04:50


@Ed;I agree there should be warnings at the port of entry to Phuket and hotels could do more;@Peter;flying skull flags does not seem a pleasant idea for a holiday location;especially for children.

Posted by Mal on July 7, 2012 21:17


As me narrowly escaped from drowning when/where one person died and some others were rescued, I said this before, a warning sign/info. about dangerous rips provided by the hotel (in the rooms/lobby) will save many lives, including perhaps number of current incidents etc. Thank you.

Posted by Yoko on July 16, 2012 11:21


@Yoko;glad to hear you survived; there are dangerous rips and currents that can drag you at any time; I have felt the myself but stay at waist deep when red flags are flying. I think putting information about this in different languages in hotel rooms and lobbies is a good idea.

Posted by Mal on July 16, 2012 23:46


I have been coming /bringing Tourists longer than this Agent. So much so , u only child lived there for 8 years, my grandson was born there.we love Thailand very much. I agree with what he says to a some extent - BUT the IMAGE of Thai Smile, Safety, Campaigns FOR YEARS in the Media by TAT and supported by us as Travel Agents/TourOperators/Airlines ,does NO LONGER apply to THAILAND and more so to PHUKET AND PATTAYA. but PHUKET IS GETTING WORSE AND A VERY CLOSE TO PATTAYA and NO longer does the Safety and Thai Smiles REFLECT THE REAlITY AND ESPECIALLY top tourist areas any longer.
THEY ARE NOT VIGILANT AND LET DOWN THEIR GUARD AND ALL SAFETY - sort of brainwashed/preconditioned to this supposed to be THAI SMILE SAFE C0UNTRY!
Have been sending Tourists to Thailand for over 35 years I know MUCH more than him - from the old Phuket to the Samui Chaweng with mud roads to Phi Phi with a few shacks! Phuket needs a massive clean up!If not Burma and Vietnam is waiting - we are not going to send our Passengers into dangerand cover-ups. GREED for MONEY has BECOME FOREMOST ON PHUKET and it is the cause of death injury of many Tourist from Tuks tuk to beaches to bars. Phuket is going to be the biggest Crash in Tourism all caused by themselves and those involved. TOO MUCH PROTECTION FROM POLICE FOR THAIS INVOLVED IN CRMINALS ACTIONS AGAINST TOURISTS too much cover upIt is over! DO SOMETHING URGENT - or The World will promote your neighbour Countries. Safer cheaper, good food and starting with good Resorts! They also have magnificent beaches !

Posted by Yvonne on July 27, 2012 02:09

Editor Comment:

Perhaps as an agent you need to do a bit more research, Yvonne. Phuket is no less safe than it was, it's just that the downside is no longer hidden from the media and the world. How many people have drowned on Phuket's beaches down the years, without you and others like you knowing, or in some cases, caring? You need to change with the times, Yvonne. The false imagery has been partly your fault through not doing your research. Why blame others when you are in the business and it's your job to know what's going on? As for the notion that Phuket is getting ''very close to Pattaya,'' there's not much point in imposing more of your guesswork on readers. The image you sold, apparently for years, was never entirely accurate. If you are still in the business, best do your research on the other countries in the region, too . . . you'll find they all have negatives of one kind or another. Tourists, however, have never been as accurately well-informed and never been travelling to South East Asia in such numbers. (Please don't use capitals. It reads as though you are shouting.)

Wednesday August 17, 2022
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa


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