PHUKET, Thailand – Scammers are hijacking just-arrived tourists near Phuket International Airport and persuading them to go to different accommodation on Phuket.
The tourists are sometimes taken to a travel centre not far from the airport and questioned intently about where they are staying on Phuket.
The slightest hesitation on the part of the newly-arrrived tourist usually leads to them being taken to different accommodation, either at greater expense or to a lower standard.
Most of the victims are travelling south from Phuket airport by mini-van but others have been scammed in taxis.
The scammers get paid commission by the people who gain the guests.
Guesthouse proprietors and travellers have contacted Phuketwan in the past two weeks to complain, indicating that an increasing number of rip-offs are occurring as high season draws near.
Giovanni Mazzolini, 28, a helicopter mechanic from Brisbane, said this week that he had booked a place to stay in Phuket City.
But when he and a friend arrived on November 21, they were scammed and taken to Patong, on the other side of Phuket.
”The lady at the tourist centre told us the driver didn’t know they place we were supposed to be going and gave us advice to go to another place in another part of Phuket.
”We ended up paying the taxi driver an extra 150 baht and he still dropped us off some distance from the accommodation.”
Niku Krog, who runs the Niku Guesthouse in Patong’s Paradise Complex, believes virtually every min-van at some times stops off at the travel centre.
One customer, Melinda, had a booking at his guesthouse and took the trouble after being scammed to get in touch via email. here are some excerpts:
Melinda: Sorry it wasn’t a good arrival experience for us the taxi did not know your hotel and we insisted on calling you, he didn’t have any phone credit so at midnight we just went to a guesthouse he did know. Sorry we didn’t message you earlier.
Niku: Of course he did not know the address when he could score 300 bath a day for you staying in his companion’s guesthouse, and you really believed that he did not have access to a phone?
Melinda: I couldn’t just grab the guy’s phone and force him to let me use it, might look like stealing or possibly put me in a situation where I might be physically abused!
Niku: I realize now that you have done everything possible trying to reach the destination of your own choice. We don’t have a car or a taxi license, so we need to rely on the existing local taxi service. Besides private pick ups can create problems with the taxi drivers around the airport.
Unfortunately the people providing taxi service here have the bad habit of making extra income, so they prefer to bring their customers to places where they can get commission. The fact that you showed him the map written in Thai and that he refused to call us on the phone proves this.
It is not the first case of taxi drivers cheating customers. This time it even seems worse since there have been an open conflict about what to do.
GIO MAZZOLINI told Phuketwan that in the end he’d had ”a really good time” on Phuket. But he was not sure whether he had lost his deposit, paid by credit card, at the place he was initially supposed to stay.
”The experience leaves a bitter taste about Phuket,” he said. ”You don’t expect to be ripped off quite so fast.
”I guess a lot of people arrive like I did, pleased the flight is over and not really prepared for the likelihood of being ripped off like that.
”Most places I’ve been to have the right kinds of controls to prevent this kind of thing happening.”
Guesthouse proprietor Niku said he usually instructed arriving customers to print out a map in advance so the taxi driver would know where to go.
”In any case, if there’s a taxi driver operating at Phuket airport who doesn’t know where the Paradise Complex is in Patong, he really shouldn’t be working as a taxi driver,” Niku said.
None of the people in the cases reported to Phuketwan could remember names of firms or numberplates of vehicles, or the precise location of the ”travel centre.”
Years ago, a centre lke this one operated in the bypass road but the present centre is thought to be just a few hundred metres from the airport.
Controlling the behavior of mini-vans and taxis at Phuket International Airport is the responsibility of the managers, Airports of Thailand.
Deputy general manager Suteep Sansiriphan said today the airport team would respond to any case brought to their attention where the name of the mini-van firm or the taxi driver could be provided.
The lesson for arriving tourists on Phuket is clear: be prepared to be ripped off from the moment you land on Phuket.
The best advice is to have a map showing where you want to go (although it shouldn’t be necessary) and the capacity to say No.