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New park fees spark fury among dive firms

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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New park fees spark fury among dive firms | Thaiger

PHUKET: The good news is that the discriminatory fee system for entry into the Similan and Surin National Parks has been abolished. Thais and foreigners will pay the same fee. The bad news is that, from November 15, the entry fee for all divers will be 200 baht. And on top of that they must also pay a user fee of 200 baht per day, with the result that a four-day diving trip to one of the two parks will now cost 1,000 baht in fees. The new fees were decided at a meeting of chiefs of national parks in southern Thailand on October 12, and have come under heavy fire from dive operators, who collectively face having to cough up millions of baht, which they are unlikely to be able to recover from their customers who have already booked and paid for diving vacations. Explaining the new user fee, Polphut Bualoi, Chief of Sirinath National Park, said, “The new user-pays fee is simple. Diving is a very profitable business, and divers use more national park resources than other visitors. “The new fee is similar to those charged in other countries, such as at Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in Australia. Diving trips here cost between 4,000 and 20,000 baht. We decided to charge 5% of the lowest price, which came to 200 baht per person per day.” Alistair Beveridge, president of the Phuket Chapter of the Dive Operators’ Club of Thailand (DOCT), said, “Last year, we paid an outrageous 200 baht per foreign diver and 40 baht per Thai diver per trip. This year, we have to pay 1,000 baht per diver per four-day trip, for both Thais and foreigners. “The Similan Park representative told us that he still had 2.5 million baht left over from the 4.8 million baht collected last year, and that he needed ideas on how to spend it. This season, they want to take nearly 20 million baht from our customers. “What for? Improvements promised last year have yet to materialize. They promise everything, but not a single thing has been done. That’s what we’re angry about,” Mr Beveridge added. Defending the new fees, K. Polphut said, “We use the money for conservation projects such as protecting the coral from fishing boats and the research at Fantasy Reef, which has been closed to divers for about a year because much of it has been destroyed. We also need money for tourist facilities and safety equipment. “It’s long-term work. You may not see any changes quickly, but if these two parks end up being like the Phi Phi islands, then who is going to be blamed?” K. Polphut added. Vithaya Hongviengchan, chief of Similan National Park said “This is nothing new. We talked to dive operators last year and we gave them a year to prepare. I think most operators should be ready for this and incorporate the fee into their packages.” To this, Mr Beveridge responded, “How can we tell customers? We were told about this around a week ago. The customers are already on their way to Thailand. This should’ve happened six months ago. They should’ve sent us a fax or a letter. “The DOCT faxed the national parks requesting a meeting to talk about the fee three days ago, and there’s been no reply,” he added.

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Transport

Footbridges stop luxury yacht travelling from Phuket to Samui

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Footbridges stop luxury yacht travelling from Phuket to Samui | Thaiger
PHOTO: Thailand's version of the Suez Canal blockage.

Footbridges in Phuket stood in the way of a luxury yacht travelling from its home in Phuket to Koh Samui when the boat was too tall to pass. Police received a call around 8 pm last night from the truck driver after his trailer carrying the yacht had trouble getting under one of several bridges for walkers to pass over the highway. The boat was travelling down Thepkrasattri Road, where it was stopped by the bridge near Baan Tha Reua School. The boat also had trouble at the pedestrian bridge at the Provincial Electricity Authority Thalang Branch and the bridge at Baan Lipon School in Srisoonthorn.

All the bridges were supposed to have a 5-metre clearance, though one observer speculated that all the repaving of the road over the years may have raised the road and lowered the clearance. Traffic police responded to the first bridge incident by sending officers to direct traffic and make sure bikes and cars didn’t pass and impeded progress on freeing the boat. The second incident about 30 minutes later was resolved by letting air out of the truck’s tires to lower it just enough to pass under the bridge. The third snag prompted the driver to go in person to the Thalang Police station to request help yet again.

This time police were less amused and suggested the truck driver try to resolve the issue himself and call back to the police only if he was unable to free the luxury yacht. A traffic police officer went to follow up with the stranded boat at the end of his shift and found the driver had given up and decided to return the yacht to its Phuket origin at Boat Lagoon Marina in Koh Kaew. The boat, now damaged from the bridge bumps, wasn’t going to make it to Surat Thani to be sailed to Koh Samui on this journey. The boat radar had broken off on one of the bridges. No word on any major damage to the pedestrian bridges.

SOURCE: The Phuket News

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Hotel blog suggests Phuket should push ahead with July reopening despite Covid surge

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Hotel blog suggests Phuket should push ahead with July reopening despite Covid surge | Thaiger
PHOTO: Hotels and other tourism business are hoping the July 1st reopening goal can still be achieved.

A hotel information blog is claiming that, despite growing Covid-19 numbers, Phuket should stick to its schedule in reopening to travellers without quarantine in July. That’s only 2 and a half months away.

In an interview with the Director of Travel and Tourism Consulting at GlobalData, they stressed that while it is crucial to rein in the spread of Covid-19 and the B117 strain now menacing Thailand, the risk must not overshadow the need to push forward with vaccinations and the march towards eliminating the quarantine by July in order to save the tourism industry and all those dependent on it.

“The Phuket pilot program is essential in creating a path towards economic recovery for Thailand, a country heavily dependent on tourism. More than 17% of Thailand’s gross domestic product is attributed to tourism and the Covid-19 pandemic has lead to the worst economic free-fall in over 20 years”

The blog acknowledges the inherent risk and possible appearance of foolishness to prioritise the plans to reopen and carry on with the same rollout schedule. But they urge Thai authorities to consider that July 1 is still 2 and a half months away, leaving ample time to recover and make progress towards the approaching Phuket reopening. A vital aspect of the reopening plan lies in vaccinating over 70% of Phuket’s provincial residents, a sizable task, but one that brings great benefit with or without the scheduled reopening.

“Pushing ahead to achieve this goal puts Phuket on track to welcome back tourists, perhaps in a “bio-bubble”, and restart the economy. The economy is desperate with household debt growing, pushing the government to enact emergency decrees to provide relief. These households need the return of tourism and the influx of cash international tourists will bring.”

The blog hopes that Thai authorities can balance the necessary Covid-19 safety measures in Phuket to protect the Thai population with the economic need to bring back tourism. They believe that with sufficient measures in place, vaccinated locals could welcome vaccinated international tourists back to Phuket reopening safely in July.

SOURCE: Hotel News Resource

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

UPDATE: Field hospitals being established in Covid hot zones around Thailand

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UPDATE: Field hospitals being established in Covid hot zones around Thailand | Thaiger

UPDATE: The field hospital in Bangkok’s Bang Bon district, west of the Chao Phraya river, had its first 10 Covid patients today. The director of the medical services office of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration says that the 10 patients into the makeshift hospital, located at the Chalerm Phra Kiat Stadium, will enable assessment of the performance by the medical team, before more patients arrive – Thai PBS World

ORIGINAL STORY: Despite the confident posture and Songkran going ahead, amid restrictions, there is a lot of background activity which suggest the authorities are getting ready for a surge of new infections at the end of the Songkran break, officially this Thursday (but in reality, next Sunday at the end of the weekend when most people who travelled home will return for a resumption of work).

The Thai lunar new year celebrations – Songkran – are the largest mass movement of Thais each year, a source for a huge leap in road deaths and accidents. And, this year, a potential super-spreader event.

Quietly, at least 3,000 extra beds have been prepared in 10 field hospitals around Bangkok. The government has also confirmed that additional field hospitals are being set up in other potential ‘hot zones’, including Phuket, Chiang Mai, Chonburi and Hua Hin. Some of them were set up last year, and since closed, and now being prepared for new positive infections.

One Thai person who had been in one of the field hospitals put together a check-list of things to take IF you end up as an invited ‘guest’ HERE.

The CCSA say they are looking for additional beds in hotels and previous state quarantine facilities (where repatriating Thais were housed for their free quarantine) to be used if needed.

This year’s Songkran had bad timing, coming just a week after a number of major clusters were identified around some of Bangkok’s popular nightlife areas in 3 key inner city districts. Even before Songkran these isolated clusters had already spread into the provinces. In the weekend before Songkran the government had already listed 37 provinces which had instigated some form of paperwork or restrictions for people who had been in any of the 3 Bangkok districts.

The government also leapt on the source of the new outbreaks – bars, clubs and entertainment venues – and promptly shut them down for at least 2 weeks. At this stage it looks likely that that ban will be extended beyond the 2 weeks and, depending on the extent of new infections following the Songkran holiday, additional restrictions will also be added.

Even today the Civil Aviation Authority published a number of new in-flight restrictions for passengers – another blow to the hard-hit domestic aviation sector.

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