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Property Watch: High hopes for smart moves



PHUKET: It is great to note that Phuket has the watchful eye and support of our PM General Prayuth with his visit for the opening ceremony of the new terminal at Phuket International Airport and the speech on ‘Phuket Smart City’ and ‘Startup Paradise’. Although Phuket has been experiencing growing pains from development, the island needs to develop to sustain interest from overseas – not just from tourists, but for long-term investment.

Whenever I arrive in Hong Kong or Singapore, I marvel at the achievements both have made in terms of their infrastructure. Businesses have flocked to both of these locations. Companies, their executives and employees have benefited from the lifestyle choices on offer there. Phuket possesses many jewels to attract companies, but needs the support and encouragement of the government as well as local Thai and international residents in order to attain greater heights of achievement.

The property market has experienced a long, generally flat period for the last few years. Successful developers and mega-companies from Bangkok and beyond, who turned their eyes on Phuket, have invested heavily in marketing the province’s environment to potential buyers. It isn’t enough to sell four walls, an entrance way, furniture and a car park, so developers have turned to digital marketing as a platform for promoting their properties.

Innovative companies have popped up, using drone technology and advanced graphic design work to produce a real feel for a property and its location. These companies can also be used to demonstrate the potential for a hotel on the market for sale or investment, or penned for branded operation.

Not many of these digital marketing companies are based in Phuket, or even in Thailand, though. However, if the business environment here were more positive and friendly toward foreign investment, then perhaps some of them would consider getting involved in Phuket’s Smart City program.

As a guest here, I can only speculate on the changes that might be needed to ensure that foreign investment in the smart city program runs smoothly, but here are a few suggestions for any readers who may have influence in determining the direction of the program – and for those who are simply tracking the program – which is hopefully on the road to success.

1) Fast track efficient, transparent and clear work permit issuance with additional benefits for participants in the program. Perhaps some flexible rules on the Thai-to-foreign worker ratios depending on the type of work involved. Making sure foreigners don’t feel they might get arrested for working on their laptops – and not being sat down at the place of work specified on their work permit – would be a good and positive change.

2) Leases on premises under which there is clear protection for the investors, and those premises being in a location that signifies Phuket, such as a view of a marina or the sea, along with exercise and sports facilities, schools and healthcare. Phuket can compete especially well with international food and beverage options, including alcohol, which appears to be targeted in those countries less keen on promoting alcoholic consumption.

Phuket actually already has all of these. It’s just a matter of combining the benefits into a package. This, I guess, will be for the private sector to look at as the government cannot coerce service providers to come up with the packages. There is also the notable development of the Phuket Smart City Innovation Park. I am sure there is room for more development there.

3) Internet. I find that the internet connection in my home is better than what I get in Singapore, and far better in terms of convenience than when I holidayed in Australia two years in a row. That said, there is room for improvement. Stability is extremely important for tech businesses, especially during the monsoon season, when internet services can be disrupted.

There are a lot of positives here that digital companies could share in the successful property development in Phuket. I really do hope we see more entrepreneurs arriving on the island, and that they receive a fitting welcome to match the promotion and fanfare of Phuket Smart City.

Desmond Hughes has been an owner and operator of his law firm in Thailand for 14 years, and is a Senior Partner at Hughes Krupica law firm

— Desmond Hughes


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