Boat sinking in Thailand last week triggers push for rules, warnings
Online tour packages for outbound self-guided travel are under scrutiny after two boats capsized during a violent storm off Thailand's Phuket Island last week, killing at least 41 Chinese tourists, and authorities are targeting unqualified tour packages and operators that pose potential risks, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism said on Saturday.
Another 15 Chinese tourists remained missing after the incident late Thursday afternoon, the Chinese embassy in Thailand said on Sunday morning.
Lack of safety protection measures - life jackets, for example - exacerbated the problems.
"There were about 20 travelers on my deck, but they weren't wearing life jackets. Only three to four people survived," a survivor from the capsized boat, Phoenix, recalled.
Safety has become a focus at the tourism ministry and among members of the public.
Online travel agencies and platforms, according to the ministry, are required to examine self-guided tour packages on sale and remove those with unacceptable risks. Advertisements for high-risk products are required to show clear warnings.
The ministry also called for the creation of emergency mechanisms - including notifications about weather and risks, for example - so that action can be taken in a timely manner, if needed.
Travelers may face a larger number of safety issues and uncertainties when reserving tour packages from online travel platforms, according to Zhang Hui, director of the tourism management department at Beijing Jiaotong University.
"A comprehensive system needs to be set up, especially for the safety element," he said. "Face-to-face safety notification and education is usually absent from online travel services. It's recommended that travelers pass a quick safety quiz before booking products. This would help give them some necessary knowledge."
Online travel platforms, Zhang said, should also conduct strict examinations of cooperating reception units at travel destinations to ensure they are qualified and have appropriate safety and rescue facilities that can ensure a safer trip for travelers.
"Travelers for outbound visits, especially for water-related entertainment, should watch weather conditions closely and master skills for self-rescue. Life jackets and insurance are strongly recommended whenever you're going to be involved in water activities," he said.
Online travel services provider lvmama.com has updated its tour packages after being informed by the ministry on Saturday, according to Liu Qiuyan, director of the company's public relations department.
"Warnings concerning travelers' physical condition, risky entertainment projects and insurance purchases are clarified on the website. Weather reports from the travel destinations and travel warnings by local authorities will also be sent to travelers by phone messages," Liu said.
"Travelers who reserved packages bound for Phuket within the next seven days can cancel or change their schedule free because of the unstable whether conditions in Thailand."