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Tour guides and operators will face charges if their clients are found to break local laws to protect the environment, Santi Pawai, the director of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports Phuket office, has warned.
The attendees were updated on the requirements by law under the Tourism Business and Tour Guide Act.
“I also reminded them that helping to preserve natural resources was a part of their duty, too,” Mr Santi told The Phuket News.
“If their customers break the law during their tours, such as by collecting coral or fish, they [the guides and tour operators] will be charged for not responsibly upholding their duty.”
Mr Santi highlighted the recent case of photos of Chinese tourists posing with a clown fish in a plastic bag at Kai Island causing social media outrage.
Their tour guide was resting in the speedboat while all this happened, noted Mr Santi.
“The tour guide’s license was suspended for one month and the company has signed an agreement that they will take care of this matter,” he added.
“But if there are any other cases like this, the company license will be revoked, too.”
Mr Santi said that most tourists – with the most popular tourist segment this season being the Chinese – do not know local environmental protection laws, which is why the responsibility was being passed to the tour guides and operators.
Signs and speakers
Meanwhile, Thanet Munnoy, director of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) Phuket office, told the meeting that his office is planning to install loudspeakers and signs to educate tourists of the need to protect nature.
“We are planning to install loudspeakers to explain the law in Thai, English, Chinese, Russian and Korean,” he said.
“Also, we are designing a new sign to explain the law in different languages that can be posted at each major island tourist-destination beach. These announcements are expected to ready before the coming high season.”
Mr Thanet said the laws to be explained by the signs and loudspeakers would be the basic rules only. The rest would be up to the guides to explain.
“There are many protected areas at islands around Phuket, such as Kai Island and Coral Island,” he said.
“The only person who can explain [the rules] to the tourists is the tour guide, so the tour guides have to understand clearly about the law.
“We are cooperating with Dr Thon (Thamrongnawasawat) to describe in specific detail what tourists can and cannot do on the beach or in the sea according to the Marine and Coastal Resources Management Act.”
More details about what beach and sea visitors can and cannot do may be announced later, he added.
Dive instructors and dive tour operators will also be required to undergo environmental law training, Mr Thanet said.
“We will launch measures targeting the dive industry,” he said. “Divers holding licenses from open diver to instructor will have to attend training sessions by the DMCR about marine and coastal resources preservation.”
Many details need to be considered, including tourists mass feeding fish was an issue, Mr Thanet said.
“Tourists giving bread to sea fish makes them stop eating lichens on corals and instead wait for food from tourists. It destroys the eco-system,” he explained.
Tours to “Discover Scuba Diving” often let tourists sit on coral reefs and “Sea Walker” diving tours needed to be relocated to areas where no environmental harm could be done, Mr Thanet said.
“They need to find a new place that is not a protected area, like Coral Island, which is popular for this business,” he said.
“We are looking for a place such as Aeo Island [near Coral Island], where the sea floor is sand. The tour operators must co-operation as well, such as by installing artificial coral in the new areas [where tours are to be conducted].”