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Slashed budget puts Phuket lifeguard patrols in danger

PHUKET: A provincial council resolution to slash the Phuket lifeguards’ funding by 10 per cent threatens to cut the number of lifeguards patrolling the beaches.

tourism, marine, Chinese, Russian, death, accidents, patong,

Tanyaluk Sakoot

Monday 12 December 2016, 09:00AM

The move hopes to see more hotels stepping up to support Phuket's lifeguards. Photo: Tanyaluk Sakoot
The move hopes to see more hotels stepping up to support Phuket's lifeguards. Photo: Tanyaluk Sakoot

The council resolution, voted in August and in effect from October, saw 19 council members voting to reduce the funding. Two council members abstained.

The budget cut, down to B19.8 million per year, is to remain in effect annually for three years.

“It is not worth paying B22 million for Phuket lifeguards,” PPAO Acting Chief Watcharin Patomwatthanapong told The Phuket News.

“We planned to reduce the budget by cutting unnecessary things out. We will also give hotels the chance to support the lifeguards in providing beach safety,” he said.

However, Mr Watcharin gave no definition of what was deemed “unnecessary”.

According to the announcement on the PPAO website, “The purpose of this project is is to boost people’s confidence in safety, defence and to protect tourists from loss or death.”

“I believe hotels will provide staff to support lifeguards on the beaches. Then we will have extra staff for tourists’ safety,” Mr Watcharin explained.

“It is a chance for hotels to be responsible and take care of their own guests as we join together to provide for their safety,” he added.

However, the PPAO has yet to clarify why the hotels would pay out of pocket to support lifeguards further when they already funded the lifeguard budget through the “Hotel tax” of 1% of each room rate charged at every registered hotel in the province.

As far back as 2004, the PPAO raked in B44 million in hotel tax collections, with only 214 hotels on the island paying contributions – far fewer than half the number of hotels in Phuket even at that time.

Worse, only last month did Russian tourist Petr Agapov, 57, drown at a section of at Bang Tao Beach where lifeguards are not allowed to patrol because a hotel its has own staff looking after surf safety. (See story here.)

In August, French national Anne Sophie Faisant Torrijos, 23, drowned at a small beach south of Nai Thon where lifeguards are asked not to patrol the waters to keep tourists safe. (See story here.)

C and C Marine

As is government protocol, the contract of B19.8mn to provide lifeguard services will be offered for public tender. However, so far no organisation other than the Phuket Lifeguard Service has even deemed the previous budget of B22mn worth even submitting a bid for.

With the budget slashed, PLS President Prathaiyut Chuayuan this week told The Phuket News that he was uncertain whether his lifeguards will want to bid for the contract, a decision that would throw into jeopardy having lifeguards stationed at 38 points on 12 beaches on the island.

“I was surprised to learn that the PPAO cut the budget by 10%, and I didn’t know until I heard it on the radio,” he said.

“I have no idea what made them cut the budget, and we have to consider whether or not to bid for the contract at all,” he added.

Although some hotels already support lifeguards, the budget also pays for the watchtowers, such as the one that collapsed on Karon Beach earlier this year (see story here), and for free surf survival training for children (see story here).

Patong Mayor Chalermluck Kebsup said that she is taking the news very seriously.

“We are really concerned about tourist safety. I will be raising this issue with my staff this week,” she told The Phuket News on Tuesday (Dec 6).

“Patong Beach is more than three kilometres long and there are only three lifeguard stations now, but there are easily more than 1,000 tourists on the beach. During the high season, the number of tourists on the beach is much higher than that,” she said.

“We must come up with a solution, even if we need to find another way to come up with the budget needed ourselves,” Mayor Chalermluck said.

Meanwhile, Ma-ann Samran, Chief of the Cherng Talay Tambon Administration Organisation (OrBorTor), declined to comment.

Cherng Talay OrBorTor is the local authority responsible for Surin Beach, which is renowned for its deadly surf during the southwest monsoon from May through October each year.

“It is not my responsibility to comment,” he said.



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swerv | 21 May 2017 - 14:13:47

Kurt: Why would i want to comment about Ace 1 project? It is nothing to do with me, i have no interest in it.Also what does this project have to do with tourist numbers in relation to lifeguards, which is the discussion here?
Whilst a small number of tourists do go to Phang Nga, mainly Kao Lak, tourists going to Krabi would go via Krabi airport not Phuket.

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Kurt | 21 May 2017 - 12:25:18

If PHUKET tourist numbers would be increasing, than it is even more difficult to understand why Phuket life guards organization is slashing down on life guards.

More tourists, Phuket government earns more tourist tax from hotels, guest houses ( of course not from the known illegal 1300+ accommodations ).
So there is enough money to improve the beach life guard system, better training, better equipment, even enough money to ad a beach cleaning brigade under supervision of a senior beach life guard.

Handle simple matters in a simple way.

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Kurt | 20 May 2017 - 21:11:44

Yes, there is a decline in tourism to Phuket.
Anyone saying different had a big thumb.
Arrivals/departures Phuket airport are not for Phuket only, bust spread north and eastward as well ( Pangnga , Krabi, etc.)
Furthermore it is well known. that TAT has no credibility about their pep talk figures.
Reality is different.

But ok, you can tell some people that the sky is not blue but green, and than they tell you that it is written, so it is true.

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Kurt | 20 May 2017 - 21:01:51

Hahaha, swerve, be productive if you feel to react.
Say something sensible about the Ace-One project opposite Patong hospital in Patong.
Comfort 'buyers', which, after 3 years paying have not even own the sand there.
So far, only a bit (5 already!) of 'pro forma' court hearings.
Prosecutor run away.  A lawless happening so far.
Buyers did fulfill their obligations, paid 100% already, still not one stone in the sand.

Say something about that, swerve.

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swerv | 20 May 2017 - 14:45:19

Foot: Where is this decline in tourism? If i remember the number of tourists increased last year by 18% an increase on the previous year which was up 13%.
Tourist numbers have increased every year since i have been here which is over 20 years.

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Pauly44 | 19 May 2017 - 16:08:47

Phuket is a basket case as a result of insatiable greed, corruption & mismanagement, now only diehard tourists/sexpats or cheap Charlie commercial package tourists, the goose is cooked, sophisticated spending or "quality" tourists have wised up.

The Phuket News

Foot | 19 May 2017 - 12:46:32

Scarecrow:  The last 3 years, Phuket has done many things to cause the decline in tourism and their Golden Eggs.
Be eliminating of most beach activities that attract them (vendors, bars, restaurants, nightclubs, chairs/umbrellas) along with greed and graft, tourists are finding more suitable and welcoming places elsewhere.
It's a same, too.  Phuket used to be on the verge of truly becoming a world class tourist destination.  That's no longer the case.
Until 2014, high season was November 1 through Songkran in mid April.  This year it was Mid December to Mid January.  Many billions are being lost that the tourism used to bring in.
There's a chance to resuscitate this dying Golden Goose.  But, will they?

The Phuket News

Foot | 19 May 2017 - 12:33:28

This cycle of cutting the lifeguard budget each low season, when it's needed the most, then improve it each high season is a continuing cycle.
It would seem a better plan would to keep the budget at suitable levels to keep the beaches safe during the treacherous low season when most drown.
Adjusting it based on tourist levels, instead of actual need, is short sighted.
Also, keeping it stable would provided year round jobs for experienced life guards.

The Phuket News

Scarecrow | 19 May 2017 - 09:09:04

Major hotels are already cleaning your beaches, are they now expected to provide lifeguards? 
Have a long think about where Phuket's revenue comes from (for the majority of the population, not those involved in land/property development) and where most of the jobs are created, and the tax revenue generated. 
You have a Golden Goose....all you need to do is take care of it - if not, the island will revert to fishing, farming (and maybe tin mining if you can persuade some Burmese to work in the mines). How does that sound?

Only in Phuket for 6 months but already can see how mismanaged the whole industry is....

Take responsibility for the beautiful asset you've been blessed with; maintain and nurture it, turn the tide of negative publicity - drownings weekly during high season, road deaths 2nd highest in the world, rip off fares and violence by the taxi/tuktuk mafia, incomprehensible and frustrating (for tourists) % beach umbrella policy, unlicensed and unqualified boat and watersports operators, etc etc.

Don't be fooled by the growing number of arrivals to Phuket - the island's share of new/incremental business to SE Asia is shrinking and other destinations are snapping it up...

Don't kill the goose that lays your golden eggs; invest some of the gold (where does it go anyway???) on improving the beach infrastructure and implementing professional and accountable management.

You think these reports and comments don't get shared worldwide on social media? Protect and improve the island's reputation while you still have a chance. "Not worth paying for lifeguards.."?? WTF??

Maybe time to dust off those fishing nets and farm tools....

The Phuket News

benvenuto | 13 December 2016 - 19:00:13

Hotels should help make beaches safer because some (the big expensive ones anyway) are on or near the beach? Is that a fair assessment of the PPAO's reasoning? 
Using the same logic every hotel large or small is on a road so the PPAO should invite them to send their staff to help police with tourist road safety. I look forward to the Hilton receptionist helping police at Chalong roundabout....God knows they need help.  

First class beaches,  third class administration.

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