Call for Phuket overhaul

Phuket Roads

Phuket Roads

The government should see Phuket’s tourism and property slump as a chance to improve the island’s infrastructure as well as restore foreigners’ confidence, hit by the closure of Phuket’s airport by protesters late last year, say local developers.

The government should set a budget to improve Phuket, which earns more revenue for the country than any other province except Bangkok, said Tanan Tanphaibul, managing director of the developer Phuket Heritage Home Co and president of the Phuket Real Estate Club.

“The tourism market is sluggish due to the recession, political problems and the new flu. Property sales have been scarce since the middle of last year. This should be the right time to rehabilitate Phuket after it welcomed the tourism boom in recent years,” he said.

He described Phuket’s infrastructure as inadequate and steadily deteriorating – for example, its one incinerator has a capacity of 250 tonnes but waste totals 400 to 500 tonnes.

The roads are also unable to sustain rising local traffic. The Phuket governor proposed new roads along the path of high-tension electricity lines that cross the island from north to south. But his initiative requires government funding.

Another local developer, who asked not to be named, suggested the government expand the airport by adding runways. Currently, the single runway cannot accommodate simultaneous takeoffs and landings, limiting the number of flights.

The current taxiway is also too short for a jumbo jet carrying up to 500 passengers, while immigration checkpoints are too few, given that about half of all tourists visiting Thailand head to Phuket and spend half of their stay there.

“If they [government authorities] want the tourism business in Phuket to generate greater income for the country, they should set an agenda to restore the tourism market and make it healthy and sustainable,” he said.

Despite the slowdown, people are travelling but may cut budgets, shorten their stays or pick cheaper hotels, he said.

The government and local administrators should also resolve public transport problems, he said.

“With overcharged fares [by local taxis], tourists would rather stay in the hotel than go anywhere else, so their stay in Phuket is short,” he said.

The airport closure late last year frightened away tourists. Occupancy during the first half of the year is down 20-30% year-on-year, while room rates are down 10-15%, he said.

“But tourism is easy come, easy go – unlike the property sector, which is now vanishing and getting worse,” he said.

Over the last 12 months fewer than 10 high-end properties such as villas have been sold and many agencies have closed, he said. “It’s all about confidence in investment. Foreign buyers and investors lack the confidence to invest in Thailand.”

Even the developer’s foreign partner has considered stepping back from planned investments in Phuket.

The slump is shown by the halving in land subdivision permits in Phuket, down from eight in the fourth quarter last year to four in the first quarter of 2009, according to the Lands Department.

About the author

Kanana Katharangsiporn Kanana Katharangsiporn
Kanana Katharangsiporn is a senior journalist with The Bangkok Post, Thailand's first English language newspaper and specialises in property and real estate areas.
Other posts by Kanana Katharangsiporn ( 41 )

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