Phuket officials turned on the charm, and literally guided the delegation to see everything they wanted them to see, including tours in Phuket Town and visits to local venues fully scripted to entertain the delegation and even a turtle-release event at Nai Yang touted as held in honour of His Majesty’s 70th birthday.
What the delegation did not get to see are the areas of the island that were not especially cleaned ahead of their arrival or anywhere else that might show what some parts of the island are actually like.
The official itinerary did not include a trip to Patong or even the “performing arts centre” that is Bangla Rd, even though Patong Mayor Chalermsak Maneesri has made serious efforts to clean the town up in the hope of attracting more tourists. Serious expansion of the wastewater treatment plant is still steaming ahead, unlike other areas along the coast. Surely the BIE is aware of what happens to most wastewater on the island?
The omission is an oddity since Patong is still home to the most guest accommodation rooms on the island. The delegation was treated to a tour on the PKCD ‘Smart Bus’, but not to tours of the main tourist areas along the west coast, again an oddity as that is where most of the hotels and resorts where the touted 7 million tourists will be staying.
On that note, the only explanation officials could have given to answer the question of public transport are the two mega-projects already slated to go ahead: the light rail that will take people from the top of the island to Phuket Town and down to Chalong, and the Muang Mai-Koh Kaew-Kathu expressway down the centre of the island.
"I can only say positive things in how well the presentations were done, how good the answers were that we received. Any doubts that we had I believe have been dissuaded,” said BIE Secretary General Dimitri S. Kerkentzes.
The BIE might have further questions later, but as it stands right now, with no public transport along the west coast ‒ again, where most visitors will be staying ‒ the BIE is happy that if Phuket hosts Expo 2028 the event will further entrench the monopoly that the taxi cartels already have in ferrying visitors to and from the planned Expo site in Mai Khao and the hotels where the visitors will be staying. Without genuine public transport along the west coast, the only competition the taxi cartels will have will be, as it is now, independent drivers responding to ride-hailing apps.
Also not mentioned was that with bid planning to host the Expo from March 20 to June 17, 2028, the closing month of the event will be during the beginning of the island’s “drowning season”, when the southwest monsoon returns, bringing deadly rips to Phuket beaches.
These are only a few of the key concerns that should have been raised, and answered, during the delegation’s “inspection” tour.
This is not to belittle what the delegation was shown. Phuket genuinely has a lot to offer visitors. And even if ignoring how much may be gleaned from the mega-budgets to be approved if Phuket wins the bid, the prospect of Phuket hosting Expo 2028 is a genuine opportunity to bring positive, long-lasting change to the island.
"There is still a lot of work in front of us for the enquiry mission to put together the final details of this report to submit it to the Executive Committee in October, before any final approval can come during the general assembly in November,” Mr Kerkentzes noted.
We hope so.