Finding Balance On The Developing Path
The Phuket Gazette.
Rummaging through Phuket's past may provide the answers we need to help plan for a sustainable and prosperous shelf life for the island's natural resources.
Much can be said about how Phuket balances its appeal as the quiet and tranquil paradise island of the past with its continued expansion and development to attract as many tourists as possible.
Welcome Khun Yin and Khun Yang to the party. One cries out passionately for a return of the island as it was 20 years ago – a simpler time when nature, culture and progress slowly paced itself when compared to the instantaneous changes of today.
The other is a pragmatic realist whose focus remains on the economic needs of Phuket in a world turned upside down. He argues that jobs, livelihoods and enterprises are all intertwined into a path that constantly moves forward, never backwards.
To gain perspective, it's hard not to travel to any corner of the world and hear the same expressions of angst and wishful thinking of turning back the clock to a simpler time and place. Without a doubt, nostalgia is a potent narcotic.
Today's argument against the impact of Phuket's rapid growth, concerns over unrestricted development and protection of the environment are worthy concerns and should play on the minds of all island developers.
At the same time, as perhaps learned from China's Cultural Revolution, the great step backward is full of equal peril and disaster. Barring the invention and patent of a workable time machine, there is only today, tomorrow and the days thereafter.
Perhaps at the root of its identity crises remains the core question of whether the tropical island is indeed just that, or if it has become just another urban center.
Given the low populations and dependence on agricultural-driven economies of nearby provinces, Phuket has become a pressure point for urbanization that has resulted in its rapid growth and development.
Looking at the close link to the mainland, substantial transportation access by air, boat and roadway, together with strategic center of the Andaman region (Krabi, Phang Nga Bay, etc), it becomes increasingly difficult simply say it's a quiet and tranquil island.
Some critics from both the private and public sectors have called for moratoriums of building and a stop to development. While there are perhaps rational and irrational arguments for both moves, they would only be band aids for a gaping wound and would leave Phuket in the dust as the rest of the world continues to move forward with the changing times.
There are and continue to be dynamic reforms to the nation's development policy. Improvements in building restrictions, environmental initiatives – including slope control, “going green” and the government's new aerial survey program to monitor encroachment and abuse – all highlight the ongoing efforts to balance the two arguments.
A framework exists today for much of what is being anguished over. Where the issue remains is one of application and enforcement. A knee-jerk reaction to stopping development would inevitably only harm those who would follow and respect the law while benefiting those who continue to evade it.
Tourism remains the economic forefront of Phuket and as we move into the future, the island would be ill-advised to rest on its laurels as Asia's leading resort destination. Bali has already come head-to-head in the race to attract tourists and is in danger of nipping Phuket at the finish line.
Modern world-class developments in Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and China are all aiming for the same tourists' dollars. Even Sentosa, with its casinos and theme parks is becoming a wider regarded resort venue.
As our hotel supply grows older, redevelopment continues to be the best sustainable option, but if existing hotel owners don't see competition, they will only run their properties into the ground. As a result, Phuket would become less competitive and appealing to the outside world.
While opinions will no doubt continue to be divided, the winds of change are going to be inevitable in the search for Phuket's identity.