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Phuket people wonder: will the sun ever set on the jet-ski scams?

Planet Phuket: Tuk-Tuk, Jet-Ski, Airport Report Card

Sunday, February 20, 2011
Planet Phuket Analysis

PHUKET'S honorary consuls will be seeking positive signs of change when envoys meet with Phuket Governor Tri Augkaradacha on Monday afternoon.

Some of them are rumbling just a little, very diplomatically. The rumblers would definitely like action to come faster on jet-skis, tuk-tuks and Phuket International Airport, the three hottest items on the envoys' tick-list.

The idea of Phuket's governor and Phuket's authority heads and police sitting down with the honorary consuls was a great innovation in 2010. Twelve months on, the time has come for a realistic assessment of the benefits of the quarterly gathering.

As Phuket's diplomatic representatives, the honorary consuls are likely to express their views in diplomatic language on Monday in the ballroom at Provincial Hall administrative headquarters in Phuket City.

But they - and the tourists and expat residents the 22 honorary consuls and embassy delegates represent - are entitled to ask: what exactly has changed in the past 12 months?

Here's Phuketwan's first-year assessment:

Expat Relations with Phuket Police

The Issue Honorary consuls want to be notified every time an expat dies or gets into trouble on Phuket, either as an alleged perpetrator or a victim.

So Far Phuket's Police Commander, Major General Pekad Tantipong, has become the go-to person for all cases involving expats. There has been some improvement in some cases, but honorary consuls still say there are often delays in them being told about specific incidents. The major general has provided quarterly lists of all expat deaths, expat charges and expat victims. However, there are some omissions from those lists. One positive sign: police now only hold expats' passports in serious cases - those involving violence or drugs.

The Future Senior police at all eight Phuket police stations need to be as committed as Major General Pekad to rapidly relaying information about expat cases. Justice also needs to come faster in the cases of expats who are charged with minor offences. Delays can mean that some tourists who commit petty theft while on holidays face penalties of time in jail plus bills that can amount to close to a million baht. That's unfair and unjust.

Jet-Ski Extortion Scams

The Issue Jet-ski extortionists scam trusting Phuket tourists by charging them huge amounts for pre-existing ''damage'' that the operators say has just been done.

So Far One big setback over the past year. Jet-ski rip-offs have resumed on Patong and other beaches and are now once again widespread. It's a tourism turn-off. The ''world-first'' compulsory insurance scheme designed to obliterate the scams can now be declared a failure for lack of enforcement. With the seven-year deadline to phase out jet-skis due next month, signs of action are nowhere to be seen. Tourists are being ripped off every day. Phuketwan's suggestion: a cooperative scheme that forces jet-ski operators to pay for each other's ''damages'' claims, plus re-registration to slash numbers to the most honest 120 operators - and a mobile team of enforcers on Phuket beaches.

The Future Uncertain. A total ban on jet-skis seems unlikely, although Thailand's new ''green'' outlook on tourism plus bans on jet-skis in the neighboring province of Krabi support getting rid of these dangerous contraptions. Any solution won't be easy. As one senior official closely connected with jet-skis told us: ''Phuket needs a hero.''

Tuk-Tuks and Public Transport

The Issue Extortionate fares paid by tourists on tuk-tuks remain the number one complaint by visitors. The fares are six to 10 times those of tuk-tuks in Bangkok - that's a lot to pay for the extra wheel that tuk-tuks have on Phuket.

So Far Maximum fares have been set, allowing tourists to negotiate prices downwards. Tuk-tuk drivers in Patong have mostly become united in a federation and are now less inclined to thuggery. There are still far too many tuk-tuks, and no practical alternative for tourists - or for local residents. ''Black'' illegal taxis are an associated problem. Instead of having a core group of hard-working tuk-tuk and taxi drivers, who can drop off and pick up fares all over Phuket, the island has a series of zone monopolies that will continue to hamper Phuket's progress as an international destination.

The Future In Phuket City on the eastern side of the island, travellers have the choice between low-cost but non-urgent ''pinkie buses'' and get-there-quick-at-a-price tuk-tuks. The same choice needs to be offered on the west coast between Surin and Cape Panwa. One positive sign: improvements to public parking along Patong's beachfront. Phuketwan drove past one busy afternoon recently and could have parked in five slots that were once monopolised by car and motorbike renters. No word lately on a proposal for a sensibly organised taxi call-centre in Patong.

Overcrowding at Phuket Airport

The Issue Tourists who come from nearby Kuala Lumpur or Singapore can face a wait longer than their flight to pass through Immigration and Customs. Getting into the airport and flying off Phuket can take two hours or more.

So Far Phuket International Airport is now operating well beyond its official maximum capacity of 6.5 million trips a year. There is no indication yet that the airport authorities have a plan to cope with soaring air traffic numbers. Plans for the airport enlargement have yet to be announced in detail. The result: a tourism catastrophe. Many tourists who are delayed for hours getting in and out of the airport will not return to Phuket. Next time they will go to some other destination, one with adequate facilities.

The Future AoT must provide temporary facilities urgently or stand accused of a failure to consider Phuket's tourism and transport needs. It's not acceptable for visitors to have to wait for two hours or more at the airport before starting and ending their holiday. Many will chose other destinations, outside Thailand, next time.

First-Year Report Summary

THE CONCEPT of an exchange of ideas between the expat community and Phuket's leaders is excellent. Understanding of different perspectives has greatly improved over the past 12 months. More work is now going into what happens between the quarterly gatherings to try to drive action on the big issues. Interest from the Thai media could be stronger. Many issues - including public transport and high fares - affect all island residents, not just tourists. Expat residents and overseas visitors now have representatives who are genuinely concerned to see the island's chronic ills cured. Phuket's future as an environmentally balanced international tourist destination can be achieved - but only if corruption can be controlled and eventually obliterated. A strategy for Greater Phuket's balanced development needs to be put in place. Yes, Phuket needs good role models. And yes, Phuket needs heroes, too.
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Comments

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A very good and honest article on whats really happening here, and what could be done to help solve it. Let's hope these meetings will help to solve some of them, it's probably our only chance...exactly... what Phuket needs is A HERO. Is he or she out there?

Posted by STAN on February 21, 2011 06:39

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I went to park my car in Patong last week and a motorbike taxi came up to me, told me I couldn't park there unless I paid him 50 baht. After biting my tongue I just drove off.

This was in a public car park in Patong - not some side street.

Can't wait for the summary after the meeting. All sounds reasonable requests to me.

Posted by Tbs on February 21, 2011 09:26

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@STAN: The HERO is working in Krabi - Governor Prasit O-sathanon.

Posted by Mike Boyd on February 21, 2011 12:19


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