Seminar identifies greatest threats to Phuket

PHUKET TOWN: The greatest threat to Phuket’s continued success as a top tourist destination is not a lack of planning, but the fact that few plans are put into action and, when they are, there is a lack of supervision or enforcement. That was the clear message from the majority of speakers in yesterday’s seminar on “The Prospects for Land Resource Management and Tourism in Phuket” organized jointly by The Nation newspaper and the Phuket Gazette. The tone was set by Governor CEO Pongpayome Vasaputi, in his opening address. Describing Phuket as a “gold mine” he said, “Some people dig in order, but some dig in disorder. They resist everything that the Provincial Hall tries to do.” He added, “The only way to keep Phuket in good condition is planning.” In the first session, on land resource management, Rajatin Syamananda, the recently-appointed Director-General of Thailand’s Town & Country Planning Dept, said he was surprised, when he took up his post, to discover that urban planning regulations cover only 2.7% of the total area of Thailand, and that even in that small area there is “a lack of appropriate guidance”. A master plan for Phuket is being drawn up, he said, adding, “The first thing to be done is to add more control measures. This depends on appropriate law enforcement.” Thasanee Chantadisal, Director of the Urban & Environmental Planning Division of the Office of Environmental Policy and Planning, described Phuket’s environmental protection system as “very poor”, with the problem being exacerbated by increasing numbers of visitors and immigrants from other provinces. She was particularly concerned with the damage being done to watersheds. “This is very dangerous for water resources,” she said. O. B. Wetzell, principal of development management company DMG, remarked that “the train of development that has run over Phuket has done some serious damage.” Asking, “What do the tourists come back for?” he urged Phuket to “dare to dream” about its future marketability. “We have got to get our act together. The market will pay for this progress, believe me.” Amnard Poltecha, Senior Policy & Planning Analyst with the National Economic and Social Development Board, pointed out that there is no 20-year plan for Phuket, or even any maps. Wichit Na-Ranong, principal of the local Pearl group of companies, said, “The problems we have are, first, no planning; second, planning but no implementation; and third, planning with implementation but no supervision.” He called for education of the public, new laws and strong enforcement. “We can’t depend on luck any more,” he concluded. In the second session, on the future of tourism, Auggaphol Brickshawana, Director of the Planning Department of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, identified two main weaknesses in Phuket. The first, he said, is rapid development combined with a lack of planning or ineffective enforcement, leading to destruction of the environment; while the second is a lack of efficient management of tourist attractions. James Batt, Joint Managing Director of Laguna Resorts & Hotels, was the one very optimistic voice in the seminar, though he too called for greater law and order. In particular, he said, tourists do not like being harassed by hawkers on beaches, nor are they impressed by the aggressive welcome they get from taxi touts at the airport. Methee Tanmanatragul, Managing Director of property developer and hotel consultancy W. M. & K, called for grass-roots education about tourism in all schools and for more stringent enforcement of laws and regulations. He remarked, “I don’t think the dream destination will have a much longer life if nothing is done.” Phuket Senator Paiboon Upatising said that a recent survey of tourists showed that they had three major concerns: environmental degradation, lack of road safety and being hassled by touts. But, he warned, enforcing laws would not work as long as local people do not feel they are being allowed to participate. Without participation by “stake-holders”, he said, “the more you enforce the law, the more resistance you will get.” The seminar, at the Royal Phuket City Hotel, was part of The Nation’s 30th anniversary celebrations which, in Phuket, include an exhibition of photographs from the past three decades. This opened yesterday in the same hotel, and is open to all.

Phuket News

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