This is a little bit of a dilemma for Thailand, as its bid to host the Specialised Expo 2027/28 is under the theme “Future of Life: Living in Harmony, Sharing Prosperity”, with a hard sell on the “Bio-Circular-Green (BCG) economy model.” (See Thailand’s own description of its bid here.)
Thailand delivered its second presentation to the Bureau of International Exposition (BIE) in its bid to host the World Specialsed Expo, branded under a campaign ‘Phuket Expo 2028’, at the 171st BIE General Assembly in Paris on Monday (Nov 28).
The presentation was required so the 170 BIE member countries, based on the recommendation of the Executive Committee of the BIE, could give its approval for all five candidates for Specialised Expo 2027/28 to be put forward for election in June 2023. The other candidates are Argentina (Bariloche), Serbia (Belgrade), Spain (Malaga) and the United States (Minnesota).
More importantly, the presentation was needed as the 170 BIE member countries whose representatives were present on Monday will later vote who will be awarded the rights to host the Specialised Expo 2027/28 at a General Assembly set to take place in June 2023. The vote will be via secret ballot on the principle of one country, one vote. This is just to explain why Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew keeps asking visiting diplomats and envoys for their support for Phuket to host the expo.
The presentation on Monday focused solely on all the glorified benefits of sustainability, harmony, prosperity and developmental progress all while preserving the environment. All that sounds great, but putting it into practice takes a lot more than words.
But while Thailand’s high-talking bid was presented to the BIE in Paris, the current poor state of Phuket’s infrastructure has been clearly on show over the past month and a half, namely the floods, roads hit by landslides and deluges of pollution washing ashore. None of this bodes well for a bid to host an international event extolling all the virtues Thai officials are promoting.
Of course the light rail, the Muang Mai-Koh Kaew-Kathu expressway and Patong Tunnel mega-projects have all been put forward as to be complete by the time 2028 comes around. Why not promote spending more than B30 billion on developing transportation infrastructure when you are spending just over B5bn on the expo site itself.
Yet while touting the lofty ideals of Thailand’s proposed expo theme, there seems to be no need to point out what it will take to see those projects completed in time. Kudos must go to Jiraroj Sukonrat, Director of Regional Transport and Traffic Systems Promotion Bureau, for finally pointing out to the Phuket Provincial Land Transport Committee that huge traffic jams on Thepkrasattri Rd await if construction of the light rail project begins before the Muang Mai-Koh Kaew-Kathu expressway is completed.
The Kathu-Patong Expressway Project, better known as the Patong Tunnel project, for years has been scheduled for construction to start in 2023, with construction scheduled to be complete by 2027.
Actual construction of the Phuket Mass Transit System Project (light rail) is scheduled to begin from July 2025 and continue through to November 2027. The light rail is currently scheduled to begin service in December 2027, just three months before the expo is to begin.
Meanwhile, construction of the Muang Mai-Koh Kaew-Kathu expressway is expected to begin in December 2024 and the expressway open for service also in December 2027.
All this construction is supposed to happen as if there will be no disruption while Phuket tourism numbers continue to rise in the coming years. Everyone takes forecast numbers from the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) with a huge grain of salt, yet TAT Governor Yuthasak Supasorn earlier this week told the 22nd World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Global Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that Thailand aiming for 80% of pre-pandemic tourism revenue within 2023.
Thailand, and Phuket, may not see tourism recover to that level, but tourist arrival numbers have been increasing, and will continue to do so. There is no doubt about that, and this construction will affect tourists and locals alike. It is very difficult see the “harmony” in that.
None of this is to throw a wet towel on the bid for Phuket to host the expo, but efforts to host the event go far beyond just spouting off lofty ideals. It as an opportunity to rectify all the critical issues that place the bid in jeopardy – the roads, the flooding, the landslides, the roads and the rubbish – which could cost Phuket from hosting an event it so sorely needs.