Phuket Vice Governor Prajiad Aksornthammakul called an urgent meeting yesterday (Feb 24) to discuss the issue with officials from various departments, including Santi Pawai, Chief of Ministry of Tourism and Sports Phuket office; Jarurong Kaewkasi, Chief Policy Specialist at the Phuket Land Transport Office (PLTO); and Col Saman Chainarong, Deputy Superintendent of the Phuket City Police.
Chinese tourists enter the Kingdom via Route R3A, which is part of the so-called North-South Economic Corridor that links Thailand with Laos and China, V/Gov Prajiad explained.
“They come from Kunming to Chiangkhong, in Chiang Rai province. Now they are arriving in Phuket and are parking up at locations across the island,” he said.
“Officials have so far found 10 RVs parked at tourist areas such as Saphan Hin, Ya Nui Beach and Nai Yang Beach.” Vo/Gov Prajiad said, adding that the meeting was called specifically in response to complaints filed at the Governor’s Office by Rawai Municipality and Phuket City Municipality calling for direction in what to do with the new-age travelling Chinese tourists.
In addition to RVs parked illegally and their drivers refusing to move, concerns are being raised about where the tourists dump their garbage and the potential impact of an influx of self-catering tourists who travel on the cheap.
But first, V/Gov Prajiad raised the legality of RVs in Thailand.
“Certainly, these RVs are considered illegal according to the Land Transport Act of Thailand because they are modified vehicles, but tourists are allowed to enter the country with these vehicles and drive on our roads up to six months under the protection of the Customs Act, which acknowledges a vehicle as personal belonging,” he explained.
“Phuket does not have RV parks to accommodate these vehicles. We are afraid that by allowing ‘RV tourism’ on the island, we will have other issues to deal with, such as public health, cleanliness and public nuisance.”
V/Gov Prajiad noted the two possible solutions suggested at the meeting.
“We could ban all RVs from Phuket entirely, and seize all the RVs and arrest their drivers already on the island – without exception.
“Or we could let each district come up with their own rules and regulations, and set up designated areas and routes for these vehicles, with a registration process.
“We have yet to decide which action we will take because we need to discuss this with the Phuket Governor at our next monthly meeting with him,” V/G Prajiad told The Phuket News.
Phuket’s Tourism and Sports Chief, Santi Pawai, called for a “sensitive” approach to handle the RVs already in Phuket, but called for total regulation as soon as possible.
“Arresting the owners of the RVs is probably not a good idea because it will damage our tourism image,” he said.
“However, at a recent meeting at our office, we agreed that it would be best to stop RVs from entering Phuket. We know there are 200 of them in Chiang Rai. For the ones already in Phuket, we will ask the owners to make sure they leave when their vehicles’ six-month stay has expired.”
Mr Santi pointed out that whatever policy is decided on, it should account for the RVs already in Phuket, and for the future.
“The question right now is how to handle those already here,” he said. “Do we need RV zones? If so, where? And where can they dump their waste? Do they have to park in one spot and be restricted from roaming around, and have their drivers use taxis to visit other areas?
“These are just a few questions and concerns that we need to address, but we must be clear to them that bringing RVs here is already illegal,” Mr Santi said.
Despite his current understanding that RVs in Phuket are illegal, Mr Santi noted the inevitable opennes of tourism in the future.
“Once AEC (Asean Economic Community) fully develops, tourists will be free to bring whatever vehicles they like and they will have a permit for it. What will we do then?” he posed.
“Eventually, we will need to find areas dedicated to receive RVs and these tourists will have to pay parking and service fees, and other charges,” he said.
In closing, Mr Santi promoted his office as the most suitable for regulating RV travel in Phuket.
“We will discuss this topic again in the next meeting. RVs enter Thailand via Chiang Khong Customs in Chiang Rai, and I am sure they just collect tax and gave them a permit to enter, but no one monitors RVs when they come to other provinces,” he said.
“The Land transport Office will soon have to introduce regulations that clearly state that RVs are not allowed into Thailand without a permit from the Department of Tourism,” he purported.
“And they will only be allowed to enter Thailand if they travel as a group or as part of a tour operated by a company. They cannot travel privately like this because we won’t be able to control them,” Mr Santi said.