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Thailand’s answer to a grisly double murder is ID wristbands for tourists

Reuters/Chaiwat Subprasom
Chief of Royal Thai Police Somyot Pumphanmuang (C) and Royal Thai Police advisor Jarumporn Suramanee (L) look at a beach near the spot where bodies of two killed British tourists were found.
By Adam Pasick
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The grisly killings of two English tourists on the Thai island of Koh Tao remain unsolved after nearly three weeks, and the local police stand accused of bungling the investigation. Yet the response from the country’s tourism ministry seems unlikely to restore traveler confidence: it wants all foreign visitors to wear ID wristbands, and eventually tracking devices.

“When tourists check-in to a hotel they will be given a wristband with a serial number that matches their I.D. and shows the contact details of the resort they are staying in so that if they’re out partying late and, for example, get drunk or lost, they can be easily assisted,” tourism and sports minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul told Reuters. “The next step would be some sort of electronic tracking device but this has not yet been discussed in detail.”

It’s unclear how such an elaborate system would ever be implemented, or how it would have saved the lives of Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, who were found murdered on a beach in Koh Tao. Police have taken more than 200 DNA samples from potential suspects, but are seemingly no closer to solving the case. According to the Bangkok Post, there was not a single police officer stationed on Koh Tao—which has a population of only 1,000 but receives about half a million tourists a year—at the time of the murders.

Party curfews and a “buddy system” to pair tourists with local minders are also being discussed, Kobkarn said. She admitted to Reuters that “some hotels are concerned that tourists may not want to wear the wristbands.” Even without forcing visitors to wear ID bands, Thai tourism is already suffering mightily in the wake of the country’s military coup last year. Foreign arrivals were down 12% in August versus last year.

This isn’t the first time that Thai authorities have scrambled to reassure tourists after a killing: one of Kobkarn’s predecessors said in 2008 that female travelers would be given emergency whistles after a Swedish woman was stabbed to death on a beach in Phuket.

In the current murder case, Thai junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha drew criticism after suggesting that female tourists could not expect to be safe while wearing bikinis unless they were “not beautiful.” He subsequently apologized.

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