On June 1, 2013, Time magazine reported that Bangkok was identified as the most visited city in the world by the 2013 Global Destination Cities Index. Tourism is clearly a massive component of the Thai economy and Southeast Asia as a whole is here to stay as a major player on the stage of favorite destinations for travelers from around the world. Now, Thailand has taken a unique step to reassure the travel community after some say concerns have grown over Thailand’s unsavory reputation — form a “Tourist Court

Certainly the majority of visitors have a memorable trip without incident during their time in Thailand. But for those who may have their pocket picked or scammed by a taxi driver or the like (all assuming such crooks are identifiable and in custody, right?), a faster track to a resolution, be it money and/or justice, is the intent of the new court. However, critics have concerns that while such a court division may help assist foreigners in an expedited manner, it is only reactive to the issues facing guests to the country.

Thailand’s first “tourist court” opened last week in the beach resort city of Pattaya specifically to handle tourist complaints. Should the pilot court succeed, similar tourist subject matter courts may open in Bangkok, Krabi, Samui, Chiang Mai and Phuket, reports say. The tourist court will handle small complaints and crimes, while serious offenses will remain in the regular Thai judicial system.

Over 22 million tourists visited Thailand in 2012, a 16% increase from 2011. (Phra Nang Beach in Krabi)

Over 22 million tourists visited Thailand in 2012, a 16% increase from 2011. (Phra Nang Beach in Krabi)

While I expect such this tourist court to handle the common fare of tourist crimes, e.g. low-level thefts, frauds, and scams, the initial case reportedly heard was quite serious. According to the Bangkok Post, the court heard a complaint for compensation after a speedboat accident in Pattaya took the lives of two Chinese tourists. 

A court that can steer resources as well as specific subject matter attention (read: cultural and language differences, for example) to claims by visitors to Thailand in an expedited manner may have promise. Will this lead to a trend in other high-tourist dependent countries and areas to implement “tourist courts”? Maybe.

Nevertheless, when the Department of Tourism leads the press conferences in place of the judiciary, the sense of authority and purpose may be even further questioned. Are such resources best served in responding to tourist complaints, or in direct, proactive crime prevention measures focused on tourist safety? Regardless, if safety improves and complaints are quickly resolved, then they may actually be onto something. What say you?

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