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Wolfgang Meusberger, cheerful observer of Patong for almost two decades.

2007: Patong's Wicked, Winning Ways

Sunday, December 23, 2007
STRANGE things are happening in Patong. While Phuket's most wicked destination continues to delight in bad behavior, the neighbourhood is now much nicer.

Among the classy new brands are Burasari, Mercure and Millennium, with La Flora and even a J. W. Marriott Courtyard coming soon.

Just around the corner now from Soi Bangla is the Jungceylon shopping centre, big but not half bad.

Wolfgang Meusberger, regional manager of Holiday Inn, has been observing Patong for 18 years and says: ''I think Soi Bangla will never go away. I think it's part of the attraction.

''All of the people who think it's so disgusting, interestingly, every one of them has to have a look, so I think Soi Bangla is actually highly overrated in terms of how exotic it is.

''You can have the same kind of entertainment in Hamburg, London, Paris . . . it's just cheaper here.

''But I have a hard time with people who believe the average tourist coming to Patong is a sex tourist.''

He reckons that 10 or 15 years ago, up to half the holidaymakers were sex tourists, but that nowadays, 80 to 85 percent of visitors are regular couples, and families.

Holiday Inn, on the beach road in Patong, was given a handsome remake after the tsunami and is now enjoying its best year yet, with ocupancy rates topping 90 percent.

It's also Holiday Inn's 20th birthday year. 1987 must have been a landmark for Phuket tourism, with the opening of Laguna Phuket, Club Med, Holiday Inn and Le Meridien.

Wolfgang -- nobody ever seems to call him Mr Meusburger -- is a longtime observer of the tourist scene and, as a resident of Nai Harn, a thoughtful advocate for Phuket.

But he does not like everything he sees and hears about Patong.

''If we talk about the service, I don't think any of the negative things that customers have been commenting about have been worked on,'' he says.

''In the past, all the comments were about unavailability of public transport, overpricing of tuk-tuk drivers, aggressive touting, particularly tailors.

''And prices have gone up significantly in Phuket over the years.''

He says that the European market is back and growing, with Khao Lak and Krabi also having ''a fantastic season.''

But he says it's the booming Australian economy that has triggered the good times for Patong especially. ''What we have seen is an incredible increase of business from Australia,'' he says.

''Six or seven years ago it would have been impossible for many people to afford a Phuket holiday. Suddenly, it's no big deal for them.

''The Australian boom is an extra 20 percent of business, so it's the cream on top of the cappucchino.

''And they are very good customers. There was an image once that Australians were cheap customers. That image is wrong.''

He is not worried about the future of Patong, although he would like the former Muslim fishing village to get the share of income it needs to progress.

The flawed national accounting delivers cash to cover the small number of resident-voters, not the huge number of workers and tourists who use the infrastructure.

What he would like to see most is a bypass road so that traffic from Kata and Karon in the south did not have to flow along Patong's beach road, adding to the local one-way traffic and making crossing a life-and-death business for tourists.

''I think there's a plan to build that road,'' he says.

He understands the viewpoint of the tuk-tuk drivers but believes they should be found jobs doing other things to make way for efficient public buses.

When it comes to environmental degradation, he would also like to see stronger enforcement of existing laws.

''What you can built, where you can build, how much you can build,'' he says. ''There are selfish business people and if you don't enforce the law you will always have people who try to do that.

''I think it's damage control now, improving all the things which cause the damage. Waste, sewage, garbage.''

Wolfgang is not worried about the future of Patong.

''Visitors just need to be very clear about what they will find here,'' he says. ''This is a city by the sea, not a quiet, relaxing beach holiday.''

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Wednesday April 24, 2024
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa

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