Members of the Senate Standing Committee on Tourism were especially shocked by what they saw at Kamala and Bang Tao beaches, where commercial interests ranging from five-star resorts to vendors selling sunglasses are allowed to operate on the public sands.
''Who takes responsibility for this?'' the committee chair, Senator Tunyaratt Achariyachai, asked a summit on tourism at Provincial Hall in Phuket City this week.
The meeting fell quiet. ''We need to know. Somebody must be responsible, otherwise there is no hope for Phuket. Within 10 years, it will be over. These beaches are like slums.
''There was a time when families came to Phuket because they knew that Pattaya was not the right kind of destination. Now families who come to Phuket and see it the way it is are likely to prefer Pattaya.''
The senate committee members also went to Surin, where they were horrified at the takeover of the beach by restaurants, and they went to Karon and Kata, where there were similar problems, with bad water running straight into the sea at Karon.
''Who will take care of this issue?'' the senator asked more than once. [Phuketwan has said that only a new authority charged with protecting all of Phuket's beaches can succeed.]
The newly elected mayor of Cherng Talay told the gathering that his council recognised the problem at Surin beach but could do little about restaurants operating on the sand because they were in dispute with the larger Thalang local body.
[Observers see this dispute as an argument about who collects the rent, rather than a battle to save the beaches.]
''Pollution, garbage and greed are destroying Phuket's prime assets,'' Senator Tunyaratt told the meeting. She said that Pattaya beaches held weekend markets.
''On Phuket, it's 'Expo at the Beach' every day of the week,'' she said. ''The problem is so bad that tourists cannot even find their way along the path from the main road to the sand.
''Like every other centimetre of space, all the pathways have been taken over by commercial interests. There are row upon row of beach umbrellas. Once beautiful beaches are now made ugly.
'On the loungers, the tourists are trapped. Every kind of seller comes along to offer them goods.''
Fellow committee member Senator Suratam Pantusak asked: ''Phuket, how did you let this happen? People are not even able to find their way to the beaches.
''If you Phuket people went to other parts of the world and found the beaches treated like this, you would not go back to those places.''
He said that the beaches were just one part of Phuket's rapid deterioration as a destination.
''Families once were able to go to Soi Bangla in Patong,'' he said. ''But not any more. The go-go bars are now obvious at street level. The purpose of some of the bars, selling sex, is more obvious than it once was.
''It will not be long before families, deciding between Pattaya and Phuket, choose to go to Pattaya because its beaches are cleaner and it has less of a reputation as a sex city.''
Well done to the Senate Standing Committee on Tourism for speaking out.
But as many Thai and expats who live in Phuket are well aware, for those who are 'destroying' our beaches it is all about money, nothing else.
Respect for the Law, consideration for the environment, consideration for the future of Phuket and consideration for one's fellow man are totally irrelevant to those who exploit Phuket.
Posted by Simon Luttrell on March 2, 2012 11:07