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Phuket Opinion: Protecting a vested interest

Phuket Opinion: Protecting a vested interest

PHUKET: Just as the country reopens to tourism with tourists no longer needing to provide proof of COVID tests or vaccination, amid hopes of finally a true restart to tourism, Airports of Thailand (AoT) has shown the world exactly what tourists can expect on landing in Phuket: a government-enforced policy whereby tourists arriving cannot choose their own taxi from the airport – they must take a taxi charging overpriced fares thanks to an exclusive money-making deal.

By The Phuket News

Sunday 2 October 2022, 09:00AM

People wait outside the main terminal at Phuket airport as an ‘approved’ taxi pulls up. Photo: PR Phuket

People wait outside the main terminal at Phuket airport as an ‘approved’ taxi pulls up. Photo: PR Phuket

The statement issued this week by AoT Phuket claiming security reasons as the need for “approved” drivers only to serve passengers at the airport was as embarrassing as it could get. No one believes that.

Worse, the fact that the statement did not even mention the multi-million-baht concessions AoT has provided to selected taxi “co-operatives” for exclusive rights to serve passengers at the airport screams loudly as to what AoT does not even want mentioned in public.

On the security angle, for some reason AoT believes it needs to enforce greater security measures than major international airports such as London Heathrow, where all drivers are allowed to enter airport grounds.

The AoT security-reasons claim also plainly contradicted the fact the general members of the public can drive their vehicles onto Phuket airport grounds.

AoT just can’t seem to make their mind up, except for the fact they want to maintain their stranglehold on the money to be made on taxi services provided to tourists arriving in the country via Phuket airport.

The statement was issued in response to the challenge laid down by Bolt taxi driver Suriya Thongsamak, who simply asked for officials to explain exactly which taxis may pick up tourists at the airport.

So strong is the influence of the relationship between AoT and the ‘airport taxi groups’ that officials would not even do that. They left it to AoT to respond to, and AoT wouldn’t even answer the question without some ‘fancy dancing’ sidestepping.

The response by AoT was so inadequate, it wasn’t even pathetic: it was outright shameful. If anyone hadn’t noticed, the statement by its very nature dismissed entirely the need for taxi drivers to register with Department of Land Transport if they want to serve tourists at the airport. Apparently the enforced registration of taxi drivers throughout the country which has so many times proved instrumental for police in tracking down suspects for rape, assault and other crimes, is just not good enough for AoT. They will maintain their own list of “approved” drivers , thank you very much.

Internal - Phuket News TV

Yet probably the most embarrassing aspect of the statement by AoT was how much it insulted the very tourists Thailand is hoping to attract to spend money in the country to help support the economy.

The tourists involved in the incident that sparked Mr Suriya’s challenge had already made their choice. They had ordered their taxi through an app in order to avoid the taxi drivers at the airport. Being stopped and, albeit politely, ordered to exit the van by a man in a military-looking uniform was their first experience in Thailand after leaving the airport.

The incident left a clear impression on the two young tourists. They chose to drag their luggage to the main road in front of the airport to order another taxi from there instead of using the ‘mandated’ taxi drivers.

But it is not just these tourists AoT is insulting. It is all the other potential tourists who, just like the two Mr Suriya was stopped from transporting, use the internet and already know about the taxi situation at Phuket airport.

And this comes just weeks after four young Israeli women proved exactly the same thing after their experience at Ratsada Pier.

It also comes after the very tourists Thailand is trying to lure spent the past two years being forced to live most of their lives online. If Thailand tourism figures were concerned about a poor image being presented to the world through social media before 2020, today in a post-COVID world the potential impact for bad news to spread online has increased exponentially.

AoT and those working to support the exclusive taxi rights at Phuket airport just do not want to learn. We all know why. Yet, the ongoing concession agreement in the end may end up costing Phuket, and the country, a whole lot more than a handful of individuals will make.

Maybe officials higher up, and not benefiting from the AoT money-making taxi scheme, might want to consider that.

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Wolfgang0815 | 06 October 2022 - 17:48:34

Phuket is not governed by the government, but by different mafia- like groups. One of them are the taxi cooperatives, one  is the management of phuket Airport, another one are the guys charging you for parking on public roads around patong beach or blocking public parking areas along the road for the tuktuks only.

That's the reason why I will leave phuket by the end of November. Can't w...

Kurt | 04 October 2022 - 08:36:32

@Maverick, Perhaps the transport mafia has Phuket in her pocket, but 'over the bridge'is different. They not dare to touch transport facilities of international 4, 5 star hotel chains in Thailand. 1 call to a Ministry in BKK, and the troops from Nakhon Si Thammarat are here to teach the local mafia a lesson. A International hotel chain CEO has more power than a local Phuket Governor.

maverick | 03 October 2022 - 15:18:53

one thing that does not add up here which is the number of hotel drivers that are waiting at arrivals to pick up a guest, they are not registered airport taxis many are based all over the island......I have a regular driver  whom I have known for many years who regularly picks up friends and family for me, he has never had an issue and he stands diligently with a name card waiting for guests.....

Capricornball | 02 October 2022 - 21:07:48

Thank you for this piece PN. In a rational governmental milieu, this round of AoT buffoonery would spell the beginning of the end for the public transport mafia and their cartels. It shouldn't take more than a week to end it. However, as we know too well, Thailand isn't known for it's rational government, but one that is corrupt from the top down. We will see their true colors this wee...

Old guy | 02 October 2022 - 15:53:39

Oh, c'mon.
Nobody in Thailand has any concern for tourists other than how to get the most money from them.  Starts right at the top and is in the soul of everyone. 

Fascinated | 02 October 2022 - 12:51:41

Just look at the Board of AoT- more Generals feathering their nests. Its not just 'mafias' on the island- its a Mafia State where corruption rules the roost.

Prab | 02 October 2022 - 10:04:24

AoT a total corrupt organisation, i would stand with M Surya and never ever use airport taxi for any reason, i would campaign and help anyone who need a lift for free even, as long they dont give money to this mafia group of people 

JohnC | 02 October 2022 - 09:12:54

Very good article PN. Maybe the problem is further complicated because those officials higher up are also getting a slice of the pie we are not aware of. That's usually how it works.

Kurt | 02 October 2022 - 09:11:13

Wow, a great Opinion piece. And so very true.  A 
real hitting the nail on the head. Very well exposing what AoT really is. A great warning for arriving international tourists how they as a "Welcom on Phuket" are taken literarily for a corrupt, scamming transport ride.


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