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Recent crimes in Phuket are damaging its reputation

Tara Abhasakun

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Photo by National Council for Peace & Order, Phuket Province.

Just when Phuket thought it was about to revive its crippled tourism economy, the recent murders, thefts, and taxi ripoffs on the Island province are scarring its public image. The most high profile recent event is the murder by two hitmen of deported Canadian gangster Jimi Sandhu at a villa in Rawai, on the southern coast of the island.

The murder has made a lot of international headlines and poor publicity for Phuket, so Thailand’s senior police flew to the island to review and lead the investigation.

But it’s not just the story of Jimi Sandhu that’s tearing Phuket up at the moment.

The province’s recent bad press dates back to August when a Swiss tourist was found dead and half naked at a waterfall. A man had sexually assaulted her, and then drowned her when she fought back. He then covered her in a plastic sheet and robbed 300 baht from her dead body. The brutal murder happened just one month after Phuket had reopened to tourists in July.

To top off the recent problems with violence, there’s also the issue of taxi drivers overcharging tourists for fares. In 2019, Australian tourists filed a complaint for a 3,000 baht fare for a 50 kilometre ride from the airport to their hotel. There have been plenty of other high profile cases that have attracted bad publicity for the island’s public transport infrastructure, or lack of infrastructure.

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After Phuket’s average number of tourists a day went down to 500 in 2021, it’s now up to 2,000-3,000 entering a day. A chairmen of the Thai Hotels Association, southern chapter, told Bangkok Post that even though Phuket hotels are 30-40% occupied, that number is expected to go down in the next few weeks.

Even one Pheu Thai MP commented on Phuket’s unravelling image, calling for the government to quickly fix it in order to save the province’s tourism. He suggested Phuket hire more tourist police, and the Thai Hotels Association chairman has suggested holding a public forum to deal with the ongoing issues with transport fares.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post


Editors comments from the original editorial in the Bangkok Post…

Just scratching my head over some comments made by Kongsak Khoopongsakorn, chairman of the Thai Hotel Association, Southern Chapter, in an otherwise withering editorial about Phuket by the BKK Post this morning.

“He said some webpages sensationalised stories about Phuket transport to whip up hype.”

‘Reporting’ the incidents isn’t “whipping up hype”. And if they are sensationalised, these should be reported and acted on. I’ve seen no evidence of over-dramatised or inaccurate reporting about the island’s transport woes. Indeed most people on the island wouldn’t dare cross the so-called taxi mafia or publish stories directly addressing their activities. Social media, on the other hand, has been able to expose many personal complaints to a much broader audience.

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“Some even invent incidents to try to drive a wedge between Phuket taxi drivers and tourists.”

That’s a serious allegation and should be followed up of any Phuket media are ‘inventing incidents’.

“Drivers picking up customers at the airport argue they must charge twice the normal fare because, coming from the city, they are permitted only to drop off customers at the airport but not pick up new ones from there.”

It’s not the taxi fares TO the airport, it’s primarily the taxi fares FROM the airport, with fixed prices which are 2-4 times more than what you’d spend in, say, Bangkok. Then again, just about any fare around Phuket is expensive compared to Bangkok.

Mr. Khoopongsakorn makes excuses for the AOT and Phuket Airport ‘system’ rather than addressing the actual problems. Perhaps he should use the same airport to take a flight to Don Mueang or Suvarnabhumi in Bangkok to see how well organised taxis and public transport are there. And check out the metered prices for similar length journeys.

“Mr Kongsak said the tourist arrivals have been stabilising in the province since Feb 1 with 2,000 to 3,000 tourists entering Phuket daily. The hotel occupancy rate is hovering between 30-40% although that number will start to come down next week.”

OK, so I was never great at maths. BUT… pre-Covid Phuket was receiving some 800,000 – 1 million visitors per month.

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Now there’s “2,000 to 3,000 tourists entering Phuket daily”, according to Mr. Khoopongsakorn. That’s around 60-90,000 travellers per month. And the occupancy rate is currently 30-40%???

That either means about 70-80% of Phuket’s hotels must still be closed or Phuket will need a hell of a lot more hotels if the numbers get anywhere near the 2019 levels again. We know, however, that pre-Covid there was already a surfeit of hotels and accommodation options already in Phuket. So his figures don’t quite add up.

Having said all that, Phuket is no different from any other holiday destination in the world with its collection of holiday makers, expats and locals, plus those who try and take advantage of all the above. It happens to be my chosen home and I wouldn’t live anywhere else, despite the few wrinkles.

We will reach out to Mr. Khoopongsakorn this week to seek clarification of his comments.

Tim Newton – The Thaiger

 

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    A Thai-American dual citizen, Tara has reported news and spoken on a number of human rights and cultural news issues in Thailand. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in history from The College of Wooster. She interned at Southeast Asia Globe, and has written for a number of outlets. Tara reports on a range of Thailand news issues.

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