The anti-government camp in Phuket and the island’s pro-monarchy supporters have both promised to keep any public gatherings they may hold peaceful, and the island’s police force have pledged the same. We hope that they do.
Yet for Phuket the key questions the country’s leaders must answer is what they will do to alleviate the the economic suffering brought on by the COVID-19 protection measures through the ongoing ban on foreign tourists to the island.
Tourism is the lifeblood of Phuket, and the Ministry of Tourism & Sports and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) have both already publicly admitted that the domestic tourism campaigns have had nowhere near the desired effect. That evidence is plain in all the key tourism areas on the island, where street after street are lined with shops closed. At night, a drive through the southern end of Patong off the beach road, and worse through Kata and Karon, fails to give the impression that you are on Phuket at all.
Yet it remains in question whether the ruling emissaries will see this at all. The Cabinet will be convening in Mai Khao, far from any key tourist areas, so the press entourage will not have to pass countless shops with their shutters pulled down.
It is also difficult to believe that by sheer coincidence the visit has been scheduled to be held at the same time as the Phuket Carnival, with the beach road and Bangla Rd set up to attract any persons in the area, giving an impression that the town has at least some tourists. Walking through a microcosm of pretend liveliness will look good on camera, but surely they don’t think people in Phuket are that stupid, when a drive along Rat-U-Thit 200 Pi Rd even in daylight will show them how many businesses are still closed, including the Jungceylon shopping mall. After the sun sets, the sight of the streets dark and void of life is just plain depressing.
Also to be answered is why Phuket airport remains banned from receiving any foreign tourists now a full month since it was inspected and approved by regional health officials, simply awaiting Bangkok’s blessing. By the time the Cabinet arrives, it will have also been a month to the day since the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) approved Phuket airport to receive international medical tourists.
This is while 17 hotels offering 1,988 rooms now all sit empty because they have been approved to serve as Alternative State Quarantine venues. Some explanation to those operators would be polite, considering the expense and effort made to convert their properties to receive quarantine guests, instead of the TAT this week reminding everyone with an announcement that all foreign arrivals must serve the mandatory quarantine in Bangkok.
As it stands, the official itinerary for the Prime Minister and the Cabinet does not include any firsthand inspection of the tourism areas on Phuket suffering heavily from the current economic crisis. A visit to the Phuket Old Town area seems to be a way of avoiding this harsh truth. We dare PM Prayut and the visiting ministers to do what a even tourist would do, go out and see state of the island for themselves.
They say they want to speak to local people about the impact of the current crisis on their lives. We suggest they start with any of the 400 families in Kata and Karon that recently had to queue up to receive essential food supplies, not delivered through a government project, but by a local food charity drive, or even venture to Nanai Rd, where scores of people queued in the heavy rain last Sunday to receive food parcels handed out by foriegn volunteers and Patong Mayor Chalermluck Kebsup herself.
No one is asking for the government to allow the arrival of tourists to resume unbridled, but you can’t test a system without testing the system. A start has to be made sometime.