Asia Minute: Tracking Tourists in Thailand

Aug 9, 2016

Credit Simon Yeo / Flickr

The tourism industry is always looking for new ideas—whether they involve visitors coming to Hawai‘i or traveling elsewhere in the world.  But a proposal floated this week by a government official in Thailand may not gain a big international following.  HPR’s Bill Dorman explains in today’s Asia Minute.

Thailand wants to track its tourists closely….by way of a computer chip.  A government agency wants all foreign tourists to be issued SIM cards.

SIM cards are a familiar part of the mobile phone world---SIM stands for “subscriber identity module.”  They can be useful for everything from making cheaper international phone calls to authenticating identification.  They can also be used to track the location of the user—and that’s the area Thailand’s government is interested in exploring further.

The head of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission denies mandatory SIM cards would be an invasion of privacy…adding that activating a search for an individual would require a court order.  Another government official said it would be helpful to track criminals on the run from authorities.

Tourism is a crucial industry for Thailand--making up nearly 15%of GDP growth in the first quarter of this year.  From 2010 to 2015, the number of annual visitors nearly doubled—to $30 million.

That’s about three and a half times the size of Hawai‘i’s annual tourism market.  As for Thailand’s tracking plans….they still lack specifics and a timeline.  Government officials say they’ll ask for more advice from police, tourism regulators, and industry insiders.