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Foreign minister meets with Phuket-based diplomats to discuss the island’s future

Maya Taylor

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PHOTO: Dive Magazine

The Thai Foreign Minister and Deputy PM, Don Pramudwinai, has met with a group of European and Asian diplomats based in Phuket to discuss the future of the southern island province. Attendees came together to talk about economic stimulus measures that could help Phuket, which has been hit hard by Covid-19 travel restrictions and the closure of Thailand’s borders.

According to a Bangkok Post report, Don has expressed optimism that the tourism sector would bounce back once the Covid-19 pandemic is brought under control. However, he says the province must also look at becoming more than just a holiday destination. The minister believes the province could potentially become a global centre for conferences and watersports, but currently lacks the necessary infrastructure.

“All consuls have shared a similar point of view that Phuket has the potential to make (the global centre idea) happen. But it cannot be done without a network of infrastructure such as a local transport system and water supply. They also want the government to get rid of the mafia problem in the country.”

(The ‘mafia’ problem to which the FM alludes is mostly related to the island’s taxi and tuk tuk mafia who run an extortion racket and cabal keeping a tight control over who drives taxis and tuk tubs and the overpriced fares. Several ministers, Governors and police chiefs have tried to get some sort of control over the key, and well known, mafiosos, and ended up being run off the island, sometimes under a cloud and with threats to their lives.)

He adds that instead of Phuket focusing on how many tourists it could attract, the emphasis should shift to quality over quantity. The government is currently limiting numbers for its Special Tourist Visa scheme, only admitting up to 1,200 tourists a month, from countries considered “low-risk” for Covid-19. And, although the first group of STV tourists arrived from China two weeks ago, a domestic tourism marketing campaign being run in China means fewer of them are applying to come to Thailand.

Tanee Sangrat from the Foreign Affairs Ministry acknowledges numbers are lower than expected and says officials are in talks on how best to attract more tourists.

“We have been aware of the issue and we are working with a related agency to provide more lucrative packages to tourists for when the Covid-19 situation improves. We do hope to get more tourists from Scandinavia joining our visa scheme if the countries have few infection cases.”

Bill Barnett addresses Phuket and Samui’s particular tourism challenges.

Last year, Thailand welcomed around 40 million tourists, with around 15 million holidaying in Phuket. Now the Covid-19 pandemic and the closure of Thailand’s borders has led to deserted streets and shuttered businesses in former tourist hotspots like Patong, Kata and Karon. Although grateful that domestic tourism is being encouraged, one local shopkeeper says it simply isn’t enough.

“It is a good policy to encourage local travel, but it can’t compare with income from foreign tourists. We don’t think the tourism industry will resume any time soon because outbreaks can still be found in Europe.”

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

 

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