The Week in Focus: Tragedy in Phuket

The Week in Focus: Tragedy in Phuket
By admin

Along with the rest of the industry, Travel Today was shocked and saddened at the senseless death this week of Perth travel agent Michelle Smith.

It is almost impossible to comprehend and our thoughts are with her friends and family. Sympathy should also be extended to Michelle’s colleagues on the famil and to Asia Escape Holidays, who were hosting the agents.

Attention will now inevitably switch (indeed, it has already done so), from the tragic event itself to whether Phuket has suddenly become a lawless, dangerous place, best avoided for fear of a repeat.

Assuming the department of foreign affairs does not have information to the contrary – and there is no reason to suggest it does – the answer to this question is a resounding no.

In the hours after news emerged of Michelle’s murder – let’s call it what it is – agents were contacting the Australian Federation of Travel Agents seeking advice on cancellation policies to Phuket. Some firms even waived fees for those wishing to alter their travel plans. I find that troubling.

As terrible as this incident is, Phuket, and Kata, has not suddenly become beset with violence and a risk for tourists. People will point to reports of another stabbing the same night while a third tourist has come forward to say she was robbed last November. That’s eight months ago. I just don’t buy the predictable knee jerk conclusion that Phuket is now dangerous, not even remotely so.

Michelle’s tragic death is a rare occurrence which of course is of no consolation whatsoever to her family, friends and colleagues. Nevertheless, an unusual incident is what it appears to have been.

While Australia is far from a crime-ridden nation, dreadful attacks, beatings and stabbings occur here.
But if you were to hear on the news tonight of a random stabbing in Melbourne or Perth, would you cancel plans to visit the city and travel elsewhere? It is bordering on the preposterous to suggest you would.

Would agents contact AFTA seeking advice on whether it was safe to travel and whether cancellation policies were in place? Again, absolutely not.

So why do people react so differently when something of this nature occurs in a foreign land? Is it because they have limited knowledge of the destination? The culture is different? The language? The simple fact that it isn’t home?
Whatever the reason, it is illogical.

The image of Phuket has been damaged, that much is obvious. But let’s get things into perspective before we hysterically question the safety and security of Phuket which welcomes countless tourists from around the world who leave with nothing but fond memories.

Be angry at what happened, be angry at the cowardly perpetrators who stabbed a 60-year-old mother of three, and grieve for Michelle and her family. But don’t persecute Thailand and Phuket in the false belief it has suddenly descended from a holiday haven to a destination best avoided.

Departure tax success – of sorts

Some tourism businesses may be wondering what all the fuss is about. Despite a high profile industry-wide campaign, the departure tax will rise by $8 on July 1.

Yet tourism lobby groups and associations are celebrating. Why? Because Labor dropped plans to index the Passenger Movement Charge to the rate of inflation. And not only that, tourism will receive an additional $40 million.

Flight Centre, which partially funded newspaper adverts objecting to the PMC increase, described the outcome as “moderately positive”. In some respects it is right. Ultimately the industry failed in what was always going to be a tough ask – to block the $8 increase.

But there is a bigger picture here. The tourism industry has traditionally been fractious, with groups and associations rarely seeing eye to eye. What this anti-tax campaign has demonstrated is that the industry can, when it puts its mind to it, present a cohesive voice and make a difference.

There is a huge opportunity now to continue that united approach. History tells us it will also be a challenge.

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