Present for the meeting were Phuket Vice Governors Snith Siriwihok and Siwaporn Chuasawad, chiefs of all the major government offices on the island and honorary consuls from 12 foreign countries, including China.
Phuket Governor Norraphat Plodthong outlined his key list of important issues relevant to Phuket, including two topics most relevant in recent months: drownings and bus safety on Patong Hill.
With regards to preventing the frequent drownings, Gov Norraphat explained, “The first solution to this problem is that lifeguards will extend their shifts from 6:30pm to 7:30pm.
“Volunteers will also begin to patrol some key locations where lifeguard observation may be temporarily absent,” he added.
He also noted that a multimedia video is currently being made to warn foreigners of the dangers of swimming, videos that are to be shown in tourist places such as in buses and hotels.
“We also ask for you all to help us warn tourists of the dangers before they reach Phuket,” Gov Norraphat told the envoys.
“Last year we had 260 drownings [drowning incidents*], this year we have had 120 so far. We want to reduce that number to even less next year,” he stressed.
“Regarding safety on Patong Hill, firstly we are extending the heavy vehicle ban from 4pm-7pm to now 4pm-11pm.
“The second factor we are trying to improve is traffic engineering, including adding rubber to road surfaces. We have already requested a B4-million budget from the government for this,” he added.
“We are in the process of setting up emergency brake areas along the road and we are setting up checkpoints around the island for three types of vehicles: vehicles registered in Phuket, vehicles registered from outside of Phuket staying in Phuket, and vehicles that occasionally enter Phuket from elsewhere,” he said.
“We are also currently developing the Welcome Gate at Tha Chatchai and it will be ready in November.
“Another factor that causes accidents is low-cost tour operators who use buses in poor condition. We must tackle this problem urgently. I am working on a strategy to catch these low-cost tour operators as we speak now.”
Governor Norraphat also spoke out about wastewater and garbage dumping.
“A very important project we have today is called Keep Phuket Clean by our Hands and Hearts. It is important because Phuket has been using natural resources as a main resource to attract tourists to come here for more than 40 years. Now, every tourist needs to consume a lot of natural resources such as water, and produces a lot of garbage and waste.
“This project came about to restore natural resources on this island to better condition for our future generations,” Gov Norraphat explained.
Gov Norraphat also spoke about stray dogs and cats, explaining that strays not looked after by the Soi Dog Foundation would have to be vaccinated and neutered for the safety of the community within the coming years, and urged donations from the public for stray dogs and cats in the foundation and in the streets.
Gov Norraphat also explained that the municipality is undergoing research for another island to relocate stray monkeys, and plans to add 1,500 CCTV cameras to high-risk areas, including in traffic blackspots.
“We want to prevent problems before they happen,” he said.
Gov Norraphat also noted to the honorary consuls that 60% of Phuket now has free Wi-Fi and the remainder will be set up by the end of next month.
With regards to boat safety, Gov Norraphat stated, “To maintain order of boat passengers, we have already begun to enforce identification before passengers board the boats, using wristbands. Some places have this rule already, while we implement it at other piers.”
Governor Norraphat also outlined topics of flooding, airport improvement strategies, developing Phuket as a centre for sports, medical standards, closing the economic gap between Thais who working the the tourism industry and agricultural workers, hazardous and infectious waste management, and building an international bird park as an alternative attraction for tourists.
Of interest, South Korean honorary consul Tossapol Theppabut brought to the Governor’s attention that the number of tourists arriving from South Korea had fallen dramatically over the past two years, due to Koreans being afraid of the many dangers of Phuket, including road accidents.
“People in Korea have said that in recent years they would rather holiday in Bali, due to being afraid of the dangers in Phuket, such as drownings and road accidents,” he noted.
Other honorary consuls voiced their own concerns, including issues involving illegal narcotics, tourists being poisoned through alcohol as well as police seizing from tourists legal medications that the tourists brought in Thailand from their home countries, where the tourists have been issued prescriptions for them.
Consuls also called for clarification on plans for the Royal Cremation on October 26.
The meeting was closed with thanks, and a proposal by Gov Norraphat to initiate a ‘LINE’ application group whereby all honorary consulates could be informed on upcoming meeting dates, and honorary consulates could voice their concerns wished to address in future.
The date for the next meeting has yet to be set.
Craig Ferguson, the Australian Consul-General for Phuket, told The Phuket News, “We welcome these meetings… Today the Governor gave us a good run down on some of the projects happening in the province, including for the safety of tourists, which is a main concern for us.
“The Governor told us today that we will have these meetings every two months, which is a very positive development especially with the high season upon us. There’s a lot of things on the go – a lot of ambition, and many of these things affect tourists, which of course we support,” Mr Ferguson concluded.
* The figure was later confirmed by the Phuket Lifeguard Service as likely to reflect the actual number of drowning incidents on the island. See story here.