PATONG: Hotels and other businesses in Phuket’s capital of fun, having battled their way through the effects of the Bali bombing and the Sars epidemic, are now viewing with despair another deterrent to tourists. The deterrent this time is of local origin – a “beautification program” which has the beachfront looking like Sarajevo at the height of the Balkans war. Tourists trying to get from the beach road onto the beach itself need to battle across a construction site. Wolfgang Meusburger, General Manager of the Holiday Inn Patong, in a letter to the Patong Municipality on behalf of other hotels in the area, wrote, “We appreciate that the municipality is trying to … beautify the beach, but we have a hard time understanding why it has to be done during the high season.” Phadungwong Intong, Supervisor of Starbucks in Patong, agreed that the construction has had a significant impact on business, with the number of coffee drinkers down on last year by about 30% to 40%. Not everyone is despairing. Mark Chaiyaboon, Resident Manager of the Patong Beach Hotel, said that the project was good even if it currently disrupts businesses around Patong. Pointing out that similar projects and arguments had occurred in Pattaya, he said that he beleived the long-term outcome would be a big improvement. “I just think that right now everyone is upset because they are tearing up the road,” he said, adding, “There might have been a better way of planning it. “Some places are probably facing a little bit of a downside but in the long run everything will be a lot better than it is right now.” Novotel Coralia General Manager Rodney Trutwein said, “Obviously, doing it in the high season will affect some of the guests that go to Patong beach, but if you do it during the low season you have the Asian tourists and you also have the rain and the wind to contend with. So when is a good time?” Supagorn Meegaew, the Patong Municipality engineer supervising the walkway construction, explained that the Patong Beach Coastal Landscape Development, as the project is known, is aimed at making the beach look more pleasant and more organized and also at keeping the beach cleaner by using a 2.5-meter-wide walkway to separate the beach from the road. The Municipality had been planning the beach beautification project for about two years, he said, but had had to wait for budget from the government. He said, “when the government finally gave funding we didn’t have time to conduct a survey [of local businesses] because we were in a rush to start building.” He conceded that, ideally, it would have been better if a survey had been done. Clean Technology, the construction company hired by the Municipality, was chosen because it submitted the lowest bid, K. Supagorn told Gazette. The 40-million-baht, three-kilometer-long project consists of three parts. The first section of walkway starts where Prachanukhro Rd meets Thaweewong Rd and extends to Soi Bangla. The second section starts at the Loma Fountain on Thaweewong Rd and ends before Phra Baramee Rd. The third section goes a little way into Kalim from Patong. K. Supagorn said, “We started building in the low season and it was supposed to be finished by now, but it was delayed because people said that we were building too far out onto the beach, so we had to move it back five meters before we could resume construction.” The problem, says the Holiday Inn’s Mr Meusburger, is that ground for the entire length of the beach has been ripped up at the same time. “I’ve already had three couples leave the hotel. They said, ‘We are not coming to a beach where we cannot walk anymore, it’s just very unpleasant.'” He added that they had moved to Karon. K. Supagorn said that the Municipality was in a rush to complete the walkway before the end of December and so the contractor was trying to build the first and second sections at the same time. But, he added, Clean Technology did not have enough workers, which was slowing down construction and making it look doubtful whether it would be finished on schedule. So far the project is only half-complete.
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