PHUKET: Comparing Phuket to some of the other holiday islands in the region left us imagining how much better Phuket could be with a positive, transparent strategy to address all its problems.
The 18th ITOP Forum on Phuket yesterday brought together a group of mostly Asian island destinations. But few conclusions could be drawn from their individual or collective futures.
In a sense, all holiday islands all want the same impossible dream: increasing amounts of tourists/revenue that leave the local culture and all natural attractions undamaged and as appealing as ever.
Fat chance. Everybody in the large conference room realised they were engaging not in a miracle, but in a trade-off.
Just how much culture will be compromised and how much damage are you prepared to sustain for a few extra dollars?
Phuket won praise for the quality of the conference gathering, with Phuket Governor Maitree Intrusud occupying the first two pages of the hardcover conference handbook with the governor's message and his own CV.
Listening yesterday to the presentations from Cebu, Hainan, Srilanka, Bali, Okinawa, Jeju and Penang, it was difficult not to reflect on what have been the most positive strategic decisions in achieving the vital balance that Phuket continues to strive to obtain.
There are just two key big-picture decisions that we could remember: the creation of the 80-metre height limit, which is designed to protect the ''green top'' of Phuket, and the recent clearance from the beaches of shorefront restaurants and umbrellas and sunbeds by the military.
Put the two together and you have a doughnut effect, with Phuket protecting both its outer and inner rings. This is great for an urban island's future.
A city will before long link all the villages. Phuket cannot avoid an urban future.
Yet there is a chance of Phuket escaping high-rises and skyscrapers and some of the ghettos that come with cities.
What more needs to be done to perfect Phuket, to maintain the sense that it's the gateway to a genuine getaway?
While we did not predict that the coup command would clear the beaches or that Region 8 police would begin the difficult task of taming Phuket's tuk-tuks and taxis, Phuketwan
is on record as calling for a benign dictator to organise a future Phuket, free from corruption.
That would still be top of our list, even though corruption was not up for discussion yesterday. Whatever dark secrets the other islands share were not on display.
One point that stood out from the opening speeches was delivered by Peter Molin, the deputy governor of the Swedish island of Gotland, an observer for now at ITOP.
He noted that Gotland had a circular track around the coast and legislation that prohibited resorts from being built too closely to the path.
If Phuket was being reestablished today, there would be no buildings allowed on the seaward side of coastal roads. Come to think of it, there is some construction going up along the coast road that the military authorities should look at closely to determine whether it is legal.
Bearing in mind what we now know about other holiday islands, this is our wish-list to make Phuket a better place to live and visit:
.. Coordination with Phang Nga and Krabi provinces to plan a strategic future that basically promotes Phuket as the hub for development while rapidly limiting what can be built in Krabi and Phang Nga.
.. An administration on Phuket that fixes problems, that is free from corruption, that recognises the need to be transparent and that does not try to cover up incidents because they are ''bad for Phuket''.
.. The gradual replacement of police, Immigration and other officials on Phuket with corruption-free officers whose conduct and understanding of the law is exemplary.
.. A barrier on prices to prevent overcharging and rip-offs.
.. A toll on vehicles coming onto Phuket that would be used to improve roads.
.. An excise on all private vehicles on Phuket designed to turn people from the use of cars and motorcycles to the use of buses and trams.
.. All resorts and condominiums constructed on Phuket from 2015 to provide their own water supply in the form of lagoons or rain-collecting tanks.