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Phuket's Karon beach: centre of a potentially damaging pollution scandal

Tourism Leaders on Slow Learning Curve

Sunday, May 29, 2011
News Analysis

PHUKET: ATTEMPTS at encouraging an international outlook on Phuket will move forward on Monday when island officials lead local media on a tour of Phuket's waste-water facilities at a beach destination.

However, it may be too little, too late for Phuket's reputation. It's a tour that should have taken place about six weeks ago.

The ''polluted beaches'' story highlights once more Phuket's inability to respond appropriately and in a timely fashion to threats to its reputation.

A popular German television travel show that also screens in other parts of Europe may yet go to air with a damaging portrayal of health-threatening pollution at two popular Phuket beaches, Karon and Kata.

German honorary consul Dirk Naumann warned Governor Tri Augkaradacha long ago on April 11 that the producers of ''Wir Retten Ihren Urlaub!'' (We Save Your Holiday!) had obtained damning measurements of unacceptable pollution at the two Phuket beaches.

The travel show, with a good reputation and a big audience, has the capacity to influence thousands of viewers across Europe to alter their holiday plans to avoid unsafe and inhospitable destinations.

While local Phuket authorities confessed that an electrical failure at the local waste-water plant probably was the cause of the pollution at the time the television researchers took their readings, their reaction has been confined to letters to German travel authorities.

In most other places where such a significant threat to the destination's main industry became evident, the local administrators would speedily swing into action in a cohesive fashion.

Yet only tomorrow - more than six weeks after the danger to Phuket's reputation arose - will Phuket react as it should. That's sad for Phuket and its long-term future.

The lack of a perception among local officials of the need to be seen to be transparent, to be media savvy and to conform to international standards is the main reason for the disenchantment of some of Phuket's honorary consuls.

The first paragraph of Phuketwan's story on April 11 told officials everything they needed to know: ''Phuket has been plunged into full media damage control over a European television show that claims resorts in Kata-Karon allow water containing faecal material to flow into the sea where children and tourists swim.''

Unfortunately, the words ''full media damage control'' appeared to have been misinterpreted. We did not mean a letter of explanation or two.

Local authorities seem ignorant of the power of the international media and the need in the 21st century to always be seen to conform to international standards.

Over 16 months, the honorary consuls as a group have raised important issues at three-monthly intervals so that Phuket's administrators can know and understand - in no uncertain fashion - what tourists think of Phuket.

Successive Phuket Governors have been prepared to allow the honorary consuls to meet local authorities face-to-face to explain that Phuket's future is at risk because of rip-offs, exhorbitant tuk-tuk fares, jet-ski scams and the replacement of traditional Thai hospitality on Phuket with outrageous levels of greed.

The honorary consuls, a mix of expats and Thais, have done the right thing. They have delivered to Phuket's administrators a full, no-holds-barred picture of Phuket's international image, an image on which its future depends.

But the reaction has been poor. Very little has changed on Phuket. As a group, the honorary consuls feel frustrated, and no wonder.

When will change come on Phuket? It now appears that change will be driven from Bangkok as the honorary consuls tell their ambassadors that the local authorities on Phuket do listen, but remain slow to react.

It's as if some of Phuket's local authorities still believe that they can, like the tuk-tuk drivers and the jet-ski operators, ignore the rest of the world.

Yet as the rest of the world already knows, and as Phuket is inevitably learning very slowly, that's just not possible any longer.
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Comments

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Aggggghhhhhh!!!! I just want to scream. Why won't the local Thai media report the ongoing problems in Phuket so Bangkok can take action before it is too late?

Posted by helen on May 29, 2011 17:08


Wednesday April 24, 2024
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