by Zhang Chunxiao and Chang Tiantong
BANGKOK, June 26 (Xinhua) -- Thailand has become a safer place since the military seized power about a month ago, a senior tourism official has said, trying to alleviate concerns of foreign tourists, especially those from China.
Security risks that had deterred foreign tourists and prompted dozens of countries to issue travel warnings against Thailand "no longer exist," permanent secretary of the Tourism and Sports Ministry Suwat Sidthilaw told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.
The May 22 coup put an end to protracted street demonstrations and recurrent violence, and brought long-absent peace back to the country, the official now in charge of the ministry stressed.
Over the past month, Thailand has begun to see "stagnant economy revitalized, better understanding created among the people and reconciliation underway in the society," Suwat said.
The military junta has instructed relevant agencies to tackle safety loopholes that have long existed in Thailand's tourist sector, such as overcharging by taxi drivers and mafia gangs in popular destinations like Phuket and Pattaya, Suwat said.
In 2013, Thailand recorded a total of 26.4 million inbound tourists, and the figure for this year is expected to drop slightly to 25-26 million, the permanent secretary noted.
When asked about the time frame for visa exemption for Chinese tourists visiting Thailand, which has been a fairly heated topic, Suwat responded that the "Thai side needs some more time to fully prepare itself" for an expected boom in Chinese visitors following the enactment of a visa-free policy.
In 2013, Thailand received a total of 4.7 million Chinese tourists, almost doubling the figure of the previous year.
"If this growth rate continues, Thailand may not be able to provide sufficient manpower and traffic resources. In this case, it is difficult to ensure safety for every tourist," Suwat said.
Moreover, both China and Thailand are concerned about possible violations of law resulting from the visa exemption, he added.
Suwat also cautioned tourists against signing up for group tours that claim to be "free of charge or undercharge," saying it is also a cause of security risks in tourist trips.
China and Thailand are now continuing to collaborate in cracking down on unregulated group tours, he said, adding Thailand has seen a reduced number of such tours since China's tourism law came into effect last October.