PHUKET: This is the Tourist Assistance Desk at Phuket International Airport that will become a Crime Crisis Centre with 12 days as Phuket tackles rip-offs and scams.
The crime eradication campaign by the Department of Special Investigations and the Ministry of Tourism and Sport has been welcomed by tourism industry spokespeople - provided it proves to be genuine and lasting.
Scams and shams, Phuket has seen both. And scams and shams are both looked upon with utter contempt by Phuket people who long to see real change.
Suchart Hirankanokkul, President of the THA (Southern Division), told Phuketwan ''If this DSI investigation is real action, that's good. If it's all over in a couple of weeks, forget it.''
As the owner of the Graceland Group which has just expanded from Phuket to Phang Nga, Khun Surchart has a good understanding of Phuket's problems.
He has also witnessed a succession of do-nothings who have promised a lot but done nothing down the years.
In agreement is Larry Cunningham, who runs the Chava Resort at Phuket's Surin beach and is also Australia's honorary consul for Phuket.
''I sincerely hope it goes a lot further than simply looking at the black [illegal] taxis,'' Mr Cunningham said this week.
''So far, nobody has been willing to tackle the real problem of excessive fares, aggressive taxi and tuk-tuk drivers and touts.''
The DSI campaign begins with the toughest group of drivers on Phuket, those in Kata-Karon, using threats and intimidation and declaring their intention to take over from tour operators.
Doing tours instead of straight A-B trips at excessive fares would give the taxi and tuk-tuk drivers instant access to commissions from the Phuket attractions that mistakenly offer ''extras''.
Commissions paid by resorts, guesthouses and Phuket's lesser tourist attractions lead to tourists often being abducted as soon as they arrive at Phuket airport.
Now the tuk-tuk and taxi drivers of Kata-Karon hope to take the abductions, ignored for years by Phuket airport's managers, to the other end of the island.
Tourists on Phuket who have the misfortune to fall into the care of the taxi and tuk-tuk drivers of Kata-Karon will be taken where the commissions are, not where the tourists choose to go.
This is the bottom line for tourism on Phuket. Cede more control to the tuk-tuk and taxi drivers, and Phuket's future as a tourist destination is sealed.
Already, says Mr Cunningham, the local Phuket taxi drivers have too much control in an industry on which Phuket's entire future depends.
'Phuket has an opportunity now to do something,'' he says. ''Phuket has to change. We need taxi drivers who understand the concept of service and put an end to thuggery.''
Mr Cunningham said that just days ago, the drivers at a stand outside his resort refused to let a car from outside leave the resort after picking up a guest.
''The guests involved were terrified,'' he said. ''They will go home and tell others about their experience.
''Like many resorts on Phuket, we have a group out front who wander around wearing no shirts, with their backsides showing, who haven't the foggiest idea of proper behavior.''
Gangs of drivers - whether they chose to be called groups or some other name - are a familar sight outside Phuket resorts. Most managers are intimidated and prefer to say nothing.
''We need a new Phuket,'' Mr Cunningham said, ''one where tourists are treated fairly and where the tuk-tuk and taxi drivers are no longer in control.
''Unless the DSI campaign can deliver that, it will be a failure.''
Khun Suchart says the campaign by the DSI must be sweeping and the reforms comprehensive. He noted that after last year's murder of Australian tourist Michelle Smith, there was intense interest and activity for a month. Then it all ended.
''We must protect the image of Phuket,'' he said. ''This year and next year, numbers will still be high but the quality of the people who visit Phuket is deteriorating.
''Taxis and tuk-tuks especially have to be brought under control.''
He said Phuket's governors were appointed by the central government and they worked for the central government, not for Phuket.
''Phuket is like a football, kicked this way or that, depending on the governor, but very few goals are scored,'' he said.
As well as public transport, Khun Suchart was also particularly critical of the Phuket International Airport and its management.
''The airport is so bad, the toilets are so bad, the parking is so bad,'' he said. ''Do they care about Phuket or not?
''Each day they rake in millions of baht at the airport. How much is spent on good service?''
People who complain at the Crime Crisis Centre at the airport will soon be able to check it out for themselves. Phuket's Crime Crisis Campaign is due to begin on or near Friday, August 6.
Santi Palai, Director of Tourism and Sport Phuket, told Phuketwan today that a key meeting was scheduled for Bangkok on August 2.
At that meeting, the strategy for the DSI's campaign on Phuket was likely to be finalised and the staffing of the airport centre determined.
At present, he said, the centre helped the tourists with inquiries, took complaints and provided information.
As a Crime Crisis Centre, it's likely to become much busier while authorities continue their search for another outlet in Patong or Karon.
Police from Bangkok are due to be recycled through Phuket to prevent them being diverted from carrying out orders.
Phuketwan recognises the importance of this campaign and sees it as possibly the last chance for Phuket to right many of its wrongs.