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Maitree Narukatpichai sees the need for greater independence for Phuket

PM Reinforces Call for 'Phuket Independence'

Monday, April 28, 2008
THE PM's public acceptance of the need for Phuket to get a better financial deal will hearten the local business and government leaders who have been making more noise on behalf of the island lately.

Phuket brings a huge amount of income to Thailand through its growing attractiveness to tourists. What the island desperately needs is a fair return.

Yet its income for development is restricted to a much smaller amount calculated on the basis that the island has just 320,000 registered citizens.

Phuket's population is at least twice that, with tourists boosting the figure to about one million in some high season months.

The golden eggs won't keep getting laid unless the goose gets a decent feed every so often.

PM Samak Sundaravej seems to have accepted this in his call on radio on Sunday for special development of the island.

He even added that he would soon hold a meeting with government agencies to consider projects for the province.

The PM has proposed forming an executive board to speed up development in Phuket, a move some say would interfere with local authorities.

But other leading citizens say Phuket's biggest problem is that it has far too many local authorities.

One person who will welcome that news is Maitree Narukatpichai, President of the Phuket Tourist Association and owner of the Hilton Arcadia Phuket and Villa Zolitude.

''Phuket needs more independence,'' he says. ''Phuket needs to be able to select its own governors.

''As business people, we can do better if we have our own governor, if we have our own administration.

''It's very important. The politics have to be very stable in order to carry policies through. We have to stay with it, hoping that it will become better.''

In a wide-ranging interview with Phuketwan, Khun Maitree spoke frankly of Phuket's need for serious government investment to keep the tourism industry functioning properly.

Security on Phuket: ''Compared to the number of tourists, we still need 20 percent more police. We have more than five million tourists coming each year. The plan for the Region 8 southern headquarters for police to be transferred to Phuket may be suspended, so I hear, because of changes within the police department.

''If the Region 8 headquarters moves here, that would be good for Phuket. In a meeting with the new chief of Region 8, I explained the importance of security on Phuket. Police cannot cover everywhere. Sadly, another 500 police would not have saved the Swedish girl who was murdered at Mai Khao beach. Phuket is still safe, but it just happened that the perpetrator was there at that time. It was really unfortunate.''

Greater Phuket: ''I know of about 20 Thai resort companies who are looking at expanding quickly into Phang Nga. We have to go that way. The tourists that used to come more than 10 yerars ago, I ask them 'Are they still happy?' Europeans really choose to come to enjoy nature. I want more tourists but I want a long term business, not short term business. And I want people who live on Phuket to have a good quality of life. We don't want increasing problems with water, garbage and traffic.''

Theme Parks: ''I think Phuket needs more attractions, something new. Theme parks, if they do it right, I support them. We already have plenty of tourists, but what about the problems we are facing right now? Traffic, security, garbage.''

Local government: ''I still enjoy Phuket compared to Bangkok, where I came from 20 years ago. Frankly speaking, local governments lack vision. How well can they administrate the areas that they look after? Some of them lack vision and planning. They don't know what to do.''

Package tours: ''Phuket is improving but changing slowly. It depends on the business people. Some are dumping prices during the low season, not improving quality. The basic problem we have to solve at the moment is that business people only think about business. We need to adjust slowly to receive more quality tourists.''

Promotions: ''During the low season from May onwards to September, I would say most of the hotels will be doing a promotion. They don't really lower the price but if you stay four nights, you pay for three. Once business returns, they will not give you the free night. I think that's ok. Most resorts run between 50 and 60 percent during the low season.''

Trained staff: ''Working only five days is an attraction for employees. People feel that they don't really have a time off with just one day of leave each week. Quality staff is difficult to find so resorts are using every device to gain better staff. At the moment it's very tough because we lack trained staff. Employees are always looking for a better place and don't necessarily concentrate on what they are doing. If the service charge is better somewhere else . . why not move? Three-star, four-star workers upgrade very quickly. Five-star, four-star resorts don't always deliver the quality that customers pay for.''

Promotions II: ''The TAT's main objective now is marketing. The new minister is ok but there is a high turnover. Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia for example, they stay six or seven years. They need that kind of consistency. I never expect support from the government sector. We need to do our own. ''

Infrastructure: ''I'm very worried because now we have so many tourists coming. If the tourists come to Phuket, are they satisfied because of the support, the facilities, the infrastructure? Everywhere you go now, it's not like before. Patong Kata Karon are very crowded. You don't really get to relax. You don't come to the island to kick back. It's really commercial. If we keep going like this, it will hurt us in the long run.''

Villa business: ''Now my resort handles mostly Korean honeymooners, perhaps 90 percent. But I am looking for more markets for Villa Zolitude. The pool villa business is coming on, but steadily, in 20 or 30 villa resorts. Banyan Tree was the first pool villa business and pool villas really expanded on Phuket about seven or eight years ago.''

Better Phuket: ''I like people who are doing business to contribute and help Phuket to be a better place. We need a lot of cooperation from all sectors on Phuket to make it a better place to live. I am willing to help to contribute with people who can pull together the government sector and the private sector.''

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Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa

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