Let’s review the last 2 days when the Thai PM and the cabinet cavalcade headed to the southern islands of Phuket and Samui. Did their visit come up with any solutions that could help the islands and their economic crisis? Please watch the video and subscribe to our YouTube Thaiger channel.
Thailand’s PM, Prayut Chan-o-cha has just spent the last 2 days visiting Phuket and Samui, along with members of his cabinet. The largely symbolic visit was at least a recognition that 2 of Thailand’s primary international tourism economic engines had been decimated by a lack of tourists. In both cases the islands’ tourist related businesses and hospitality industries have seen hundreds of thousands of job losses with entire streets of shops shuttered and abandoned.
After inspecting the worst hit communities on the islands the PM called for long-term plans to revitalise their economies. Prayut described the conditions in Phuket as “much more drastic as the province heavily relies on international travel”.
He acknowledged that Phuket generates the second-highest income from the tourism industry, just behind Bangkok.
“When I arrived in Koh Samui and Phuket and saw the conditions of both cities. So, we have to figure out how to make the situation in Phuket better and we will look forward to gathering information in order to find a proper solution for all parties.”
Phuket and national tourism officials have already scrambled to come up with wellness tourism projects, numerous ‘models’, provincial infrastructure projects and extensions of the subsidised domestic travel program “We Travel Together.”
Mathmatically, the much-hyped Special Tourist Visa will do almost nothing to help either Phuket or Samui.
With a projected limit of 1200 tourists per month for the whole country, and only a handful of quarantine-ready hotels on the islands, Phuket or Samui will hardly notice the difference. One of the primary ideas discussed yesterday was to turn at least Phuket into a medical, sports and health tourism hub.
Phuket already has quite a developed health and wellness infrastructure, albeit spread around the island and any promotions or new infrastructure will take months, even years, to develop. So there’s no short to medium respite there either. The cabinet also said they were interested in bringing business and sports conferences to the island with business people from low risk countries.
Again, nothing really new and certainly not going to put meals on the table for the hundreds of thousands that are currently out of work. They also acknowledged that, in the short term, mass tourism, like the islands and Southern provinces profited from before, was simply not an option due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic around the world.
But the Cabinet did approve, in principal, to grant tourism business operators soft loans under the 57 billion baht portfolio guarantee scheme. This soft loan scheme is provided to SMEs over an 8 year period.
Whilst the Cabinet Cavalcade of some 10 passenger vans barrelled around the two islands on Monday and Tuesday, it was also announced that Krabi’s tourist magnet Maya Bay may be re-opened to tourists. The beach, made popular in the 2000 movie, The Beach, was closed back in mid-2018 after suffering the affects of mass tourism.
And finally, if the PM thought he’d be able to escape the protesters whilst visiting the southern islands, local protesters in Phuket had other ideas. At a few staged ‘meet the people’ opportunities he confronted some small protest gatherings with a variety of signs being waved around….
“Phuket pays high tax but there is no development”, “stop encroaching on people”, “unblock Pornhub now”, “our freedom is raped”, “we hate police and soldiers” and “cancel the lese majeste law and I will tell you many things.”
Some of the messages were also projected onto the sides of buildings around the island. The upshot of the 2 days of inspections, meet and greets and talkfests, is plenty of ideas and plans. But none of these plans will help the operators in tourism and hospitality tomorrow, or even over the next fews months.
The next three months are traditionally the tourist high seasons… well that won’t be happening. Whilst the Thai government decides to limit the number of local arrivals and keep a tight leash on the borders, both islands will continue to suffer without any relief in sight. And even if they do allow more travellers to come to Thailand sometime soon, who is going to be coming, with much of the UK, Europe and the US heading into a savage winter, much of it featuring new lockdowns.
The heydays of big tourist numbers are long gone and the tourism and hospitality infrastructure established on both islands over the last two decades, is destined to gather more dust until the planes start arriving again.