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Phuket Opinion: In clear view

PHUKET: Monday was an extraordinary day. We had the Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha officially open the long-awaited Chalong Underpass in the morning and just hours later grace his presence at the great spectacle that was the full-scale tsunami disaster response exercise at the Phuket Deep Sea Port.

By The Phuket News

Sunday 14 July 2019, 09:00AM

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, joined by a host of VIPs, officially opens the long-awaited Chalong Underpass on Monday (July 8). Photo: PR Dept

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, joined by a host of VIPs, officially opens the long-awaited Chalong Underpass on Monday (July 8). Photo: PR Dept

As Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paojinda pointed out, the so-called Integrated Disaster Management Exercise (IDMEx 2019) was held not only for disaster-response teams to practice, but also to show the world how well prepared Thailand is to respond to disasters, such as another tsunami.

Key to the exercise was the co-ordination of government agencies in providing disaster relief, Gen Anupong explained.

Ironically, Gen Anupong and guest of honour Prime Minister Prayut only hours earlier were celebrating the opening of Chalong Underpass, which was more than three years and 11 months in the making.

So disorganised was that project that actual construction did not start for nearly a year after the initial contract for works to begin came into effect on July 28, 2015, giving a total of 780 days of construction under a budget of B546 million, for completion by Sept 14, 2017.

In short, something that was supposed to take 25 months to complete was finished 20 months late. That’s how well co-ordinated government departments in Thailand can be.

Also, while at the opening of the Chalong Underpass, PM Prayut happily explained to children and the press that taxes which fund such projects were most commonly collected from higher-revenue generating areas – such as Phuket – and often such taxes were spent on projects in those “richer” areas.

“But some areas are poor and little taxes are collected due to the low incomes of the local people, but there is no need for people living in these areas to worry, as that is what the national strategy is for – making sure everyone is looked after,” he said.

Indeed. The IDMEx was put on show at an unknown cost to the taxpayer, but no one wanted to mention that. Do such extravagances instill confidence among tourists thinking of travelling to Thailand? Yes, they do. But probably not as much as issues such as road safety and drowning at beaches in Phuket, which both present a clear and present danger to tourists’ safety.

In terms of road safety, as of Wednesday Phuket was ranked the sixth-worst province in the country. That’s out of 76 provinces plus Bangkok and Pattaya, and that ranking comes courtesy of the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation (DDPM) – the same government department that organised the IDMEx tsunami-response simulation at the Deep Sea Port. The irony just keeps rolling in.

Thailand Health and Fitness Expo 2020

In terms of surf safety, despite all the promises over the years, the system for blanket, organised lifeguard patrols at Phuket’s beaches remains in tatters to the point that Surin Beach only come Monday will have lifeguards patrolling the sands there – and even that protection comes only after a tourist drowned there last week, and his son just survived the ordeal.

And funny that no one seemed to want to raise the issue to our visiting PM that only 10 weeks ago the island was dangerously running out of water – and as confirmed this week is still at risk of running out of water before the end of the next “high season”, if not sooner.

Need more irony? Well, also on Monday, while the safety-highlighting antics were being held in Phuket, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Governor Yuthasak vowed that the TAT has now seriously – yes, seriously – “set clear directions to move the Thai tourism industry out of mass tourism and towards responsible tourism with an emphasis on revenue-generating quality tourists”.

Well Mr Yuthasak, if you don’t have a unique product, to charge higher prices you need to offer a higher-quality product. Without deceiving your customers, that is the only way to get customers to pay more.

In order to attract higher-spending tourists, you’re going to need to have a serious chat with those running the disaster department – and possibly the prime minister… if someone brings these issues to his attention – in order to get the budgets you need to “resolve these issues”.

And remember, you’re now targeting “quality” tourists, not the ones on budget flights, cheap package tours or overloading their duty-free trolleys at the airport.

These tourists are better educated, make more money in their home countries and make ethical decisions about where they travel to, including the impact on the environment and whether the poor people living on the same island will be without mains water supply while they are enjoying a bath in their four- to five-star resort.

And if they think a holiday destination is not safe, they will just go somewhere else.

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