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Phuket Opinion: A mountain to climb

PHUKET: Tourism & Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn has his hands full if he is going to attempt to untangle even just some of the issues thrown at him on Friday to help improve Phuket’s tourism industry.

By The Phuket News

Sunday 19 February 2023, 09:00AM

Tourism & Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn. Photo: MoTS

Tourism & Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn. Photo: MoTS

The slew of issues called out by key tourism figures at the conference in Phuket ran the gamut from taxi and transport woes, water supply, roads and traffic jams and ‘mafia’ figures operating tourism businesses by illegally using nominees as shareholders in their companies.

The key to all of these so-called ‘challenges’ that the island’s tourism industry is currently facing is that not one of these issues is new. They have all been allowed to spiral out of control unchecked. You can choose who to blame for this, but not one of these cancerous issues has been allowed to metastasize due to one agency alone. Every single issue involves complicity at the very least by other government agencies.

Mr Phiphat’s advice for people to inform the police of any wrongdoings was nearly laughable. That is the one government “service” that has been at the root of most of the high-profile problems directly experienced by tourists.

In terms of tourist safety, an issue glossed over at the meeting on Friday, two recent incidents in Patong have highlighted how pointless it is. The mob that beat the foreign male tourist on Wednesday night just goes to show that the local attitude on Bangla Rd is why call the police when you can just take the law into your own hands. Don’t worry, police will say they will investigate if the issue becomes a hit on social media.

Worse, if you are beaten, don’t bother informing the nearest Patong Police officer, as a Canadian tourist learned last week when he was mugged near the Patong beach road. Again, don’t worry, the top-ranking police officer on the island will cover for the Patong Police Chief and assure the mugging will be investigated ‒ while not even mentioning that a patrol police officer refused to render assistance.

As for the tourism figures’ complaints on Friday that ‘mafia’ figures were illegally operating tourism businesses on the island, how far do you have to look to see how many police officers are involved in assisting illegal businesses flourish? The national news is currently focussed on Chinese mafia in the country and more than 100 immigration officers involved in one operation alone, while conveniently neglecting to mention that the Immigration Bureau operates under the Royal Thai Police.

As for Phuket, it was not until local businesses operators on Friday pointed out that Russians illegally operating tourism-related businesses on the island were their cause for concern that this issue came to the fore. Apparently local officials had no idea this was going on, while Russians are openly advertising all sorts of services online, including house rentals (an occupation by law reserved for Thais).

The taxi issue and protection of Phuket-based drivers is continuing, and the Phuket Land transport Office (PLTO), led by Adcha Buachan, is standing its ground in providing that protection under two notices issued this week.

Phuket Property

Both were ministerial regulations: one issued in 1979 that empowers provincial officials outside Bangkok to choose to refuse vehicles from outside the province, the other issued by Department of Land Transport Director-General Chirut Wisanchit on Dec 2, 2021 mandating that non-EV taxis must be yellow in colour ‒ with an exemption for non-EV taxis registered before that date. (See here and here.)

Of course the PLTO made no mention of how many non-EV taxis have been registered in Phuket since Dec 2, 2021, though yellow non-EV taxis are plainly not visible on Phuket’s roads. Also undermining the PLTO’s claims of upholding the law is a post by Thai man explaining that in order to have a motorbike registered as a motorbike taxi in Phuket he was told he would be required to pay B5,000 to B20,000 for the service which he said was to be done outside ‘normal requirements’. 

Mr Phiphat, if that is not an allegation that the PLTO is engaging in extortion and racketeering by use of uniforms and laws to protect a vested interest by a select group of individuals then the world needs a new dictionary.

As for the roads and traffic jams, of course the mega-billion-baht projects of the Patong Tunnel and the Muang Mai-Koh Kaew-Kathu Expressway were touted as underway and on target for completion before the hoped-for deadline to host Expo 2028 were trundled out. The irony is not lost that the Expo is repeatedly touted as to highlight Phuket and sustainable tourism practices when these road mega-projects themselves are the result of some incredibly negligent unsustainable development.

Simple examples would have to be the forever tailbacks at the Heroines Monument and the traffic jams in Cherng Talay and Bang Tao. The Phuket office of the Department of Public Works and Town & Country Planning has had only 20 years to slowly cope with the growing pressures on the roads, and they have failed to do that. It’s only when billions of baht can be spent does the issue finally catch the eye of officials in Bangkok to be able to provide the budget. No coincidence there.

The Phuket office of the Department of Public Works and Town & Country Planning is not alone for the failings. The Highways Department and a whole host of local and provincial officials over the years have also failed in their responsibility to plan and execute infrastructure development that would have spared Phuket from much of its painfully obvious woes today.

With all this Mr Phiphat, we wish you the very best of luck, but there are no shortcuts in resolving any of these issues. What will be required is a massive effort to clean house in nearly every government department at every level. Good luck with that.

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maverick | 20 February 2023 - 08:13:09

Phuket and Thailand are not alone in the world in suffering a dearth of leadership and a system that encourages future leaders to enter politics - it’s a global problem 

Capricornball | 19 February 2023 - 20:55:26 there's a loaded Opinion piece. As you so clearly demonstrated, there appears to be no hope for this place, as corruption, lying and indifference pervade every element of Phuket/Thai government. As SEC eluded to, it is very sad to see such a wonderful place get run into the ground by so many short-sighted and incompetent officials that care about nothing other than themselves.

SEC2 | 19 February 2023 - 13:17:27

This will backfire on Phuket.  The tourists that do come will be low level and hardcore looking for cheap things to entertain themselves, drugs and mayhem.  Good quality tourists will be a thing of the past.  Don't mean to be doom or gloom, but it's definitely much worse than 2019.  Someone in the government must stand up and make a plan. A real plan. 5-10 year. It's the only thing tha...

SEC2 | 19 February 2023 - 13:12:46

This whole thing is very very sad. Like a good friend dying a slow and painful death. The quality of life in Phuket in the last 6 months has spiraled. The quality of "tourist" has declined. The road conditions and driving habits are more atrocious than before 2020. There is absolutely no plan to make Phuket better. None whatsoever. Only to increase flights and open more hotels.This will ...

Kurt | 19 February 2023 - 11:29:05

ChristySweet, if what you describe is/was not allowed by Thai law, but happening, than there is 1 answer/explanation possible only. That Thai Phuket Government departments who allow such are corrupt till the bone. Quite impertinent. Phuket has 4 Governors. Appoint 1 of them to function as Anti Phuket Corruption Governor. Sure none of the 3 vice governors line up for that. They like to stay alive.

christysweet | 19 February 2023 - 10:51:30

Foreigners UNITE   and take over this beautiful island before it is nothing but  a parking lot. Meanwhile- how did the McVilla  development at the end of Layan Soi 7 get a permit to fill in National Forest Preserve wetlands?

JohnC | 19 February 2023 - 09:49:26

Good article with lots of truths said. One criticism. My Phiphat's advice to contact the police was not 'nearly laughable', it was completely out of control rolling on the floor in hysterics unable to stop myself laughable! Can these so-called senior officials be so ignorant of what is really going on, or do they think eveyone is so gulliuble they will believe what they are told.


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