It is difficult to overestimate the importance of tourism to the Thai economy. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) recently announced that it plans for a record number of tourists, over 17 million, to visit the Kingdom in 2011. In recent years, about a third of these have included Phuket in their travel plans.
The TAT estimates that Phuket generated about 800 million baht in tourism revenue during this month’s Songkran holidays alone. That’s more than 100 million a day over the seven-day festival.
Former Phuket Governor Pongpayome Vasaputi once famously compared the tourism industry to glass, saying it could easily shatter. Yet Phuket’s tourism industry continued to grow even after the 2004 tsunami disaster. And despite the horrendous, mob-driven political turmoil last year, Phuket saw a record number of tourist arrivals: more than seven million.
But Phuket now faces a serious threat as one fiasco after another stains its international reputation. First are the illegal blockades of our Deep Sea Port by a band of self-entitled taxi drivers at Ao Makham, who demand – and are thus given – inappropriate and undeserved access to cruise ship passengers disembarking there.
The fact that the majority of their vehicles are unregistered “black plate” taxis seemed to make little difference in their “negotiations” with the authorities. Once again, mob rule trumped the rule of law in this land of protestocracy.
The losers, as usual, are the tourists and those who cater to them in honest and hospitable ways – attributes sadly lacking in much of Phuket’s transport sector.
Another discouraging issue in the island’s public transport picture is the growing concern over physical violence against foreign tourists and expatriate residents, including beatings and, most recently, allegations of rape by tuk-tuk drivers in Karon. These drivers seem to share a similar mindset with their peers in Panwa and Patong.
When visitors are not being beaten or extorted on fares by the transport syndicates, they are taken advantage of in other, more covert ways. Many of Phuket’s tourist attractions, including some significant restaurants, souvenir shops, tailors, massage parlours and purveyors of enigmatic jewelry, pay drivers handsome commissions, thus inflating further their ‘special’ prices for foreigners.
Then there are the jet-ski scams. The laudable effort to introduce “mandatory” insurance to prevent unscrupulous jet-ski operators from extorting in damage claims is now also at serious risk due to lack of compliance and non-enforcement of the rules. [See pages 4-5, current issue of the Phuket Gazette. Digital subscribers click here to download the full newspaper.]
The Gazette notes with some optimism the prime minister’s recent involvement in the growing public appeal for relief from these predatory practices which continue to do so much damage to all stakeholders in Phuket – including, of course, over the longer run, the predators themselves.
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