First and foremost, feed Phuket’s hungry first, and give them work as soon as possible so they support themselves. This is not a matter of pride, this is a matter of human security, safety and dignity.
We know other areas of the country have their own problems of rural poverty and seasonal crises, be they flood or drought, yet as Mr Thanusak pointed out Phuket is fully dependent on tourism – the one sector fully shut down by COVID-19 restrictions around the world. We don’t grow rice, produce vehicles or textiles, and we are most certainly not a hub for any technology or other form of information skills or services. Take away tourism and everything disappears with it: property, shopping, even schools will be affected as people move away to find work.
Mr Thanusak also called for efforts be made to start drawing up plans so that the island will be prepared for when some form of tourism, most likely some attempt at attracting domestic tourists, a source market that largely has been left with no disposable income. The real trick to that one is where will the workforce come from? They’ve all gone home. Somehow the private sector is being expected to make sure they will have trained staff on hand for when any tourists turn up. How can they do that when they have no income at all to pay them, even if just for training? Some form of skills development project must be launched.
As for any return of international tourists, Mr Thanusak hit the nail on the head. Start now or be left well and truly behind. Vietnam has already their battle plan for recovery. They’ll be targeting young travellers. It will be able long time before foreign visitors return in substantial numbers, so at least start figuring out which source markets are to be targeted next.
The best we have heard from our tourism minister so far is just the domestic tourism concept. Beyond that, the only source market anyone has made noises about is China. Hopefully the floodgates will not be opened anywhere to the same extent as the heyday of money-grabbing exploits of a few years ago. We do not say that in any form of xenophobia, over-reliance on any single source market must not be allowed again.
But Mr Thanusak’s third point, his call for Phuket to be a “special economic zone”, was very familiar.
This plea has for Phuket to have more autonomy in order to cater to the island’s needs – not Bangkok’s – has fallen of deaf ears for more than 20 years. Pattaya was granted special status and can elect its own mayor, but that took the influence of the likes of Kamnan Poh to make a reality. Bangkok has always kept a tight hand on the purse strings for Phuket while the hundreds of billions of baht this island has generated each year for decades has not been poured back into any serious form of development.
We keep hearing bleating about fixing traffic, while no one has the guts to mention public transport, not to mention the failed state of public water supply and the still-ongoing upgrade of power lines all over the island that speak tomes as to the lack of attention Bangkok has given Phuket. As long as the money kept coming, it was deemed no serious change was needed. In short, Bangkok’s management of the island has been plainly unsustainable.
“Phuket should not have income from only tourism…. Phuket must have a plan for development, and must consider in which direction Phuket will go… Right now, the problem is about people going hungry, but after that there must be a concept that moves Phuket in a different direction for the better.”
Yes, Mr Thanusak, but sadly we’re not going to hold our breath on that last one.