Tourism has been a hot topic in Southeast Asia for some time, but the number of tourist scams is on the rise in the region.
Thailand has been accused of engaging in a large-scale scam involving hundreds of millions of dollars in fake visas and other fake goods and services.
A recent report by the Bangkok-based think tank Thai Tourism Industry Association (THIA) found that at least 2,000 tourist scams are reported each year in Thailand.
The number of scams is not limited to the tourist-heavy areas of the country.
According to THIA, around 300,000 people have been victimized in recent years.
Some of these victims have been forced to leave Thailand or have lost their jobs.
Some victims have even had their visas confiscated by authorities, leaving them stranded in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore and elsewhere.
Thais are increasingly turning to tourism as an alternative to living in cities, says Thaisataporn Thanakorn, an associate professor at Bangkok University’s department of tourism studies.
“The demand for tourists is growing, but there is still a lot of money to be made in the short-term,” Thanakarn says.
Thai tourists tend to travel for three or four days a week, which makes the number and quality of their experiences difficult to measure, says Thanaknaporn.
“This makes it difficult to detect the scam.
It’s a big problem,” he adds.
The Thai Tourism Institute (TTI) estimates that around 90 percent of tourists have at least one incident of a tourist scam during their stay in Thailand, with the majority of them having to leave for other destinations after the incident.
While Thai tourism is seen as a safe, inexpensive and well-paid option for the country’s young people, many Thai families are finding themselves left out of the loop when it comes to scams.
Thais are still being cheated on their money, and Thais can’t afford to take the risk when they go to Thailand, says Tanjawut Thaniwat, a Bangkok-born lawyer who specialises in tourist protection.
“Most Thai families aren’t aware that their money is in the hands of tourists and they are not aware of the consequences,” she says.
Many of Thailand’s tourist scams take place outside the tourist hubs, but Thai tourist groups have stepped up to protect their guests, Thaniwut says.
She says some Thai resorts have also begun offering “protection money” to tourists in order to protect them from the scams.
Thaniwand says many tourist groups and their members have been reluctant to help protect their customers because of the fear that their businesses will be robbed or damaged by a scam.
“Many tourists are not really aware of how to protect themselves,” she adds.
“They don’t know how to report the scam or how to get the money back.
It is a difficult situation.”
The Thai government has issued several guidelines on the matter, but Thaniwsut says many tourists simply refuse to do so, because of fear of being called a fraudster.
“Some tourists think it is more important to take their money and leave Thailand because they don’t want to face legal problems,” she notes.
“The situation is quite different if they donít have money, because they are more afraid of being scammed.
It would be better if the government has a better strategy for these situations.”
Thailand Tourism Association (TTA) is now looking for a way to provide tourists with the necessary tools to detect tourist scams, like electronic passports and cash registers, to ensure that tourists are safe.
In the meantime, Thai authorities have stepped in to protect tourists from the scamming and protect them financially.
“We want to see a change in the tourism industry, but that doesnít mean that we are going to change the way we do business,” says Tanvit Bhattacharjee, the TTA general secretary.
“We are going with a good business model.
We want to make sure that our businesses are doing well, but it doesníll stop a scam from happening.”
Thaniwat adds that the TTI is now working with other Thai businesses to develop a digital payment system for tourism, which is expected to be launched by next year.
“That way, there will be an official system that will help tourists and tourists can use the same money to cover the cost of their holiday,” she concludes.
“People can’t be cheated if they know how they can use that money.”