Startling plans for Phuket’s future

PHUKET TOWN: Four Cabinet members attended high-powered meetings with Phuket government officials and local businessmen on Friday and Saturday (July 4 and 5), indicating that the government is still committed to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s vision of Phuket as a regional hub for transport, medical tourism, IT, duty-free shopping and yachting. The Saturday meeting at Royal Phuket City Hotel was led by Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak and attended by Tourism and Sports Minister Sontaya Kunplome, Public Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Minister Surapong Suebwonglee. Several startling government initiatives were announced, most with three-month timetables for specific tasks to be accomplished: Duty-free shopping: The Customs Department is considering tax exemptions on certain products, such as wristwatches and leather products, in order to develop the island into a “shopper’s paradise”. Marine leisure industry: The Finance Ministry, Excise Department and Customs Department will work together to eliminate registration fees for yachts and do away with import duties on foreign yachts, which now stand at about 47%. International conference center: The government continues to support the multi-billion-baht project, though no site has yet been chosen. The Tourism Authority of Thailand, which supported Saphan Hin as the site, will further study the siting issue and make its recommendations to the cabinet. A special committee will be formed to coordinate the project, and a final conclusion is expected within three months. K. Somkid and other officials visited both the Saphan Hin site and the site at Mai Khao, which is supported by a majority of Phuket residents. Spa industry promotion: The government will support the growing spa industry as an environmentally-friendly way to diversify Phuket’s tourism economy. The Public Health Ministry and Board of Investment (BoI) will cooperate to adopt standards for the industry to make it more competitive internationally. Medical hub: Public Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan announced that the Ministry would be ready to declare Phuket a “medical hub” at the beginning of next year. Health-tourism packages will be promoted along with Thai traditional massage and spa therapies, for which the Ministry will establish hygiene and safety standards. IT City: The ICT Ministry will continue its efforts to make Phuket a “cyber paradise” by coordinating a pilot effort to integrate Phuket’s government agencies through IT technology. The government will try to attract foreign investment and know-how for the industry by improving infrastructure. Plans to accomplish this will be drawn up and approved within three months. The Software Industry Promotion Agency (SIPA) will also be established within three months. The ICT and Telephone Organization of Thailand (TOT) will add 14,400 fixed-line telephone numbers and will make broadband Internet connections available to 80% of the island’s fixed lines within six months. Phuket will tap directly into the global Internet cable system within one year, by-passing the existing connection through Bangkok. Prince of Songkhla University will cooperate with the ICT Ministry to establish a new program to meet the needs of the local software industry, the success of which will depend on a ready supply of young people with programming skills. Transport: In a meeting on Friday at Phuket International Airport, K Somkid said that a Cabinet committee was preparing a request for a 500-million-baht budget from the BoI to improve Phuket’s transport infrastructure. It noted that that total will not cover all budget requests from all transport agencies. The Airports Authority of Thailand alone has requested 500 million baht for a massive upgrade to the airport that would include runway extensions, expansion of the main and cargo terminals, and many other improvements. Other budget requests include: – The Harbor Department’s 350-million baht request to upgrade the deep sea port at Ao Por, Thalang. The project’s environmental impact assessment is still being prepared. – Phuket Governor CEO Pongpayome Vasaputi’s 38-million baht plan to construct a new bus terminal for the island in Koh Kaew to ease traffic congestion in Phuket Town. K. Somkid, however, viewed the proposed site as too far from the city center and expressed worry about the environmental effects of building there. – Other areas for transport improvement discussed included roadside rest stops and language training for taxi and tuk-tuk drivers. K. Somkid said that a cabinet committee will evaluate all of the proposed transport projects and submit the 500-million-baht budget request to the BoI within one month.

Phuket News
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