Tsunami recovery work too slow
The recovery of tourism sites and infrastructure in the tsunami-hit southern provinces is unlikely to be completed before the coming high season, a top tourism executive says.
It has been eight months since the giant tidal wave devastated the Andaman shoreline and killed thousands of people, but to date work has been slow in the prime tourism provinces of Phuket, Phangnga and Krabi, said Vichit Na Ranong, the chairman of the Tourism Council of Thailand.
So far, he said, only two Phuket beaches, Patong and Kamala, could be said to be fully back to normal. The restoration of infrastructure, public utilities and hotels is continuing elsewhere, raising doubts about whether work would be completed in time for the area to welcome more tourists in the near future.
The government set aside 1.1 billion baht in initial funds to restore infrastructure and tourism sites in the six tsunami-hit provinces with an October completion deadline. Another 1.5 billion baht has been allocated for carried-over projects. However, local businessmen now doubt the October deadline will be met.
Mr Vichit, a veteran Phuket hotelier, blamed the delay on too many agencies supervising the work without proper co-operation.
\’\’One minister should be assigned to take care of the rehabilitation programme, working with local governors,\’\’ he said, adding that immediate priorities should also be established.
Mr Vichit and other area businessmen raised their concerns at meetings on Wednesday and Thursday with Tourism and Sports Minister Pracha Maleenont.
The business operators said one priority for completion by November, the start of the high season, should be the installation of tsunami alarm buoys worth about 100 million baht in the three provinces to restore the confidence of tourists.
\’\’Such an expense is justified and very small if compared with the revenue these provinces generate, 120 billion baht per year,\’\’ Mr Vichit said.
Evacuation route maps posted in public places would also build confidence, he added.
Phangnga deputy governor Theerathep Sriyapant admitted that many rehabilitation projects would not be completed in time because of delays in budget disbursement and the lengthy construction process.
Mr Pracha said he would push to have essential work done by November while follow-up projects could be completed after the high season.
In a related development, the Phuket Tourist Association has again proposed that the government waive landing fees for charter flights arriving at Phuket airport, citing a request from South Korean tour operators.
The cabinet earlier rejected a request for a fee waiver at airports in Phuket, Krabi and Trang, with Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra saying landing fees were trivial costs that did not influence tourists\’ decisions on where to travel.
Pattanapong Aikwanich, the association president, said the new proposal was limited to charter flights, based on a promise by South Korean operators that they would bring in more planeloads of tourists if they could secure lower fees.
According to Airports of Thailand, the landing fee for an international flight is 50,000 baht for a Boeing 747 and 6,000 baht for a B737. Domestic flights are charged half those amounts.
Mr Pattanapong also called on Thai Airways International to add more flights and seats to Phuket, since demand was outstripping supply following post-tsunami decisions by some international carriers to scale back or suspend flights.
The association is planning a promotional roadshow from Sept 23-28 in Vienna, Prague and Budapest to attract more tourists from Central and Eastern Europe