Phuket Gazette Thailand News: Gambling talk hits tourism tables; B2trn transport plans; No visas for Gulf medical tourists

Thailand news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Kingdom must consider legalised gaming soon, tourism forum hears
The Nation / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: The nation’s pre-eminent gathering of tourism and travel-industry experts has concluded that while Thailand looks headed for its best year ever for tourist numbers and revenues, action to legalise gaming, improve infrastructure and attract “quality” travellers is urgently needed ahead as establishment of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) nears.

More than 350 tourism-industry movers and shakers attended the Thailand Tourism Forum at the InterContinental Bangkok recently, voting on key issues facing the industry and setting alarm bells ringing about the country’s long-term competitiveness in the region.

Bill Barnett, co-organiser of the forum and managing director of C9 Hotelworks, said more than 60 per cent of respondents at the event who participated in the Thailand Tourism Index survey believed legal casinos would be an important factor in Thailand remaining competitive with other economic and tourism powers in the region.

“Thailand’s tourism [industry] needs to study very carefully the issue of gaming and other demand generators to attain sustained volume growth,” he said. “There is a very real risk of us slipping behind places like Singapore and Macau in terms of visibility, branding and revenues. Thailand is also facing a glut of hotel rooms, so we need big draw cards like casinos as key drivers of demand.”

More than 80 per cent of those voting agreed that Thailand was now staring down the barrel of an oversupply of rooms and that urgent action was required.

Among them were keynote speakers at the forum and notables including Dillip Rajakarier of Minor Hotel Group, Chanin Donavanik of Dusit Hotels and Resorts, Peter Henley of Onyx Hospitality and Hotels, Robert Hecker of Horwath HTL, Paul Logan of InterContinental Hotels Group, Jonas Ogren of STR Global, David Keen of Quo Global and John Koldowski of the Pacific Asia Travel Association.

Barnett said the Thailand Tourism Forum was the country’s first report card on the state of the industry and an opportunity to look beyond the numbers at how tourism performance can affect a country’s entire economy.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) aims to welcome 24.5 million international visitors this year, after a 15-per-cent increase last year that earned the country more than Bt965 billion, up 24 per cent from 2011.

Among the top source countries for international visitors, China stays at the top, followed by Malaysia, Japan, Russia, South Korea, India, Laos, Australia, the United Kingdom and Singapore.

‘Elephant In The Room’

Barnett said mass tourism was the “elephant in the room”.

“As Wall Street learned, nothing grows forever. Thailand needs to learn the lessons of a volatile trading environment and focus on developing stronger infrastructure and perhaps temper growth targets and create more healthy segmentation than simply more, more, more.”

The AEC is undoubtedly a “game-changer”, and will accelerate the impetus that has been building for a less divided Asean ever since the global financial crisis thrust Thailand and the region on to the world stage in 1997, he said.

“The AEC will only create a stronger fundamental for this going forward. Boosted by rising low-cost airline carriers and a growing middle class, we expect this trend to dominate the market during this decade.”

The AEC comprises the economic integration of all 10 Asean member states by 2015, with the goals of creating a single market and production base.

More freedom of travel and likely single-issue visas for the entire Asean region also raises security issues for travellers and nations but is not a reason to be too pessimistic, Barnett said.

“The euro zone has effectively handled this for an extended time, and I believe with appropriate technology and increased cooperation between intelligence services and police in Asean, that risk can be mitigated. Ultimately the benefits far outweigh the downside.”

Mike Batchelor, managing director of investment sales at Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels and Hospitality Group and a keynote speaker at the conference, said Bangkok was expected to replace Phuket as Thailand’s hospitality-investment hot spot. The new real-estate investment trust law is likely to lead to an increase in property transactions, bolstered by increasing levels of international investment as global economies recover.

Anti-money laundering agency eyes more dens
The Nation / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: The Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO) last month seized the Tao Poon casino in Bang Sue district, and has two or three more illegal gambling dens in its sights.

The land on which the Tao Poon casino sits is worth Bt10 million. Sihanart Prayoonrat, director-general of AMLO, said yesterday that Samart Singjamnong, the food vendor listed on the title deed as the owner of the land, was just a “nominee”.

Police would trace money transactions to determine who the real landowner was, he said.

The land had been subleased a few times and currently was rented to gambling den operator Winyoo Sri-ngernyeung, he said. AMLO instructed the Lands Office to freeze the property and notified the owner about the action on January 29, he said.

If the owner couldn’t convince authorities within 90 days that the source of funds used to acquire the parcel was above board and the site wasn’t used for vice activities, AMLO would ask the public prosecutor to seek a civil court order to transfer the land to the state.

This wasn’t a political move or discrimination against a certain group, he said.

A major raid was launched on the Tao Poon den on December 21, 2011, when 100 police officers swooped in and arrested 199 gamblers and a woman dishwasher were arrested.

Many slot machines and gambling paraphernalia, as well as chips worth millions of baht, were confiscated. The operation behind metal gates was protected by the Tao Poon community, which reportedly refused to cooperate with police in catching the gamblers, so it was difficult for police to gain access.

AMLO also seized Yihad Witthaya School in Ban Tha Dan of Tambon Taloh Kapo in Pattani’s Yaring district, which was found to be used as a training facility for separatist militants, he said. The 14-rai parcel on which the school was located had an estimated value of Bt590,000, he said.

Bt2-trillion transport plans to go to Cabinet
The Nation / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: The Transport Ministry will propose three blueprints requiring almost Bt2 trillion to the Cabinet on Tuesday as part of the country’s plan to spend Bt2.2 trillion to build basic infrastructure.

PM’s Office Minister Varathep Ratanakorn said yesterday that one blueprint was for transport connectivity with eight projects worth Bt190.4 billion. The second was for the infrastructure development for sustainability with nine projects worth Bt1.55 trillion, of which most was for rail systems such as the high-speed train network, dual tracks and 10 mass-transit routes in Greater Bangkok.

The third was for mobility with 10 projects worth Bt158.86 billion. The focus would be

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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