PHUKET: Governor CEO Pongpayome Vasaputi yesterday reiterated his view that Phuket must develop industries apart from tourism. “Tourism is vulnerable. It’s like a crystal. We should create real-sector businesses, or businesses related to the service sector,” he said. Speaking at a meeting of the International Business Association of Phuket (IBAP) on the theme of “Phuket Tomorrow”, he said that such industries might include marinas and accommodation for long-stay residents, which he said might have a brighter future if it was possible to “improve ways to let foreigners stay longer without having to do visa runs”. He also suggested that Phuket should become a center for international education, especially at the university level, and a center for financial activities, medical care and airlines. He also felt that fishery activities, such as shrimp farms, should be encouraged. Also speaking at the meeting was Phuket Town Mayor Phummisak Hongsyok, who gave a presentation on the infrastructure of the town. He also suggested that Phuket should become an “administrative zone” rather than a province. Methee Tanmanatragul, President of the Thai Hotels Association (THA), Southern Chapter, said, “Don’t expect and hope that things will be rosy like this for the next 20 years. We are very vulnerable. There is always something unexpected happening.” K. Methee said that Phuket suffers from a double image, of being too expensive, and yet at the same time of being too cheap. He said he would like to see controls on the number of rooms and the rates charged for them. “We take it for granted that people will pay whatever we ask. That’s not the case anymore. Tourists have more choices and have started to turn away. We have seen a drop in occupancy.” As for the cheap prices during the low season, K. Methee said, “There is a perception in vast areas of the industry that Phuket has many bad things in the low season. Cheap is not good. “If we can be successful in controlling room rates, we will not have to have high rates in the high season or have to give discounts [in the low season].” He added that it is now time for laws to be enforced more strictly in Phuket. K. Methee also briefly addressed the subject of labor unions, noting that 23 hotels in Phuket now have staff unions. He said that he will be organizing a forum before December 20, to acquaint all hotels with the pros and cons of unions and of ways to attain a balanced co-existence between unions and hotel operators. He stressed that the THA will will not be partisan. “We will do nothing for or against the situation,” he said. Bill O’Leary, an expert from the marine recreation industry, suggested that boat import taxes should be reduced to a maximum of 10% instead of the current 47% in order to aid the revival of Phuket’s marine industry. He floated the idea that Phuket should aim to become a “sanctuary” for marine activities by the year 2010. Randall Coleman of Quality Golf International backed the concept of Phuket becoming a “golf paradise”, and suggested that more old tin mines on the island should be turned into golf courses. The demand was there, he said, pointing out that the number of golf courses in Thailand had grown from 110 in 1990 to 200 this year. In the same period, he said, the number of golfers in the country had almost tripled, from 280,000 to 780,000. The next IBAP meeting is scheduled for February 6. Topics will include business updates concerning work permits, taxes and land use.
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