Security beefed up as Hat Yai seeks to entice tourists back
Hotel bombing leads to massive cancellations

Published: 5/04/2012 at 08:37 AMNewspaper section: News

SONGKHLA : Authorities are planning sweeping security improvements in Hat Yai district to revive tourists' confidence ahead of this month's Songkran festival.

The authorities and the Songkhla Chamber of Commerce met yesterday to work out measures to beef up security in the downtown area.

They hope the measures will lure back tourists after Saturday's bomb attack at the Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel led to massive cancellations of bookings in the city during the Songkran festival from April 13-15.

The festival is one of the city's biggest draws for travellers. The authorities said improving security was imperative as it would help restore tourists' confidence, which could at least make up for some of the lost cancellations in tours and hotel bookings.

The tourism sector in Hat Yai ground to a halt in the wake of the attack. One of the fatalities was a Malaysian tourist, Low Tsian Hock. Several other Malaysians were also wounded.

Emerging from the top-level meeting yesterday, Pol Gen Chatchai Potranant, adviser to the Royal Thai Police Office, said checkpoints will screen vehicles entering the city around the clock through four main roads and more than 40 feeder roads.

Where necessary, vehicles will be searched by combined security forces.

Vehicles running on gas will be barred from parking in underground parking lots of hotels or shopping centres. Surveillance cameras in the city area will be checked to make sure all of them are in sound working condition.

Pol Gen Chatchai said private security guards at commercial establishments will be trained by police on how to spot-check vehicles carrying fake licence plates that could potentially be used for attacks.

Songkhla Chamber of Commerce chairman Surachai Jitpakdibordin said the blast had caused at least 800 million baht of damage to the local tourism industry.

Many Thai domestic tourists have cancelled their Songkran travels to Hat Yai. Some Malaysian tourists have scrapped their travel plans to the city, while several study tours, meetings and convention bookings were also abandoned.

Malaysian media outlets will be invited to inspect the security measures in Hat Yai.

Deputy national police chief Worapong Chewpreecha said vehicle thefts in the far South will be treated as major criminal cases. Pol Gen Worapong said many vehicles were stolen and used to carry out car bombings.

Details of vehicles reported missing will be contained in pocket-sized books to be distributed to police stations and officers manning checkpoints.

Car repair shops in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat will be ordered to register with the police. Some of the shops are paid to repaint stolen cars that are later used in insurgent attacks.

He said mobile phone SIM cards and mobile phone batteries will be listed as regulated goods because they are essential bomb-making components.