Looking for Change in 2008
Now that 2008 has arrived and a blank page sits on my desk, it's a good time to reflect on what's needed for the property industry to prosper in the coming year. Phuket is experiencing population and economic booms. Such growth has positive and negative impacts.While it's important to view the cup half full, there will not be improvements in Phuket without serious discussion about what isn't working on our island.
The island's infrastructure lags behind the times in key areas such as public transport, roadways, and electricity and water supply. Take a drive along the coast and the multiplying mazes of cables have taken on a life of their own. The precious commodity of seaside views now looks like an electrician's nightmare. Regionally and internationally, resort destinations look to develop underground cabling and present a pristine natural environment. In Phuket, there is no such initiative.
Parking is a growing concern. Trying to park at the airport or finding a space in Patong or Surin is troublesome. There is a lack of public parking or expansion of existing facilities. While tourist numbers rise, street vendors and taxi drivers stake themselves permanently in areas that were once used for parking. Economic prosperity has seen an increase in the number of vehicles in Phuket. Ample street parking, larger-scale public parking in high-traffic areas and multi-level parking structures are urgently needed.
Coming into this high season, congestion on the island is reaching new levels. Whereas before, only Patong suffered because of excess traffic, the whole island now has one big traffic jam. There have been some steps taken to expand road size on key routes, but there are no long-term plans. Using flyovers to create unabated travel on main thoroughfares looks to be the only solution to improve the backlog.
One of the most contentious problems in Phuket is the lack of metered taxis. There are metered taxis in abundance throughout most major tourist areas in Thailand – but not so in Phuket. The past two governors made this a high-agenda item, but the stranglehold of local transport operators has meant that a fundamental service such as basic transport has remained elusive.
It was hoped that after the tsunami in 2004, the rebuilding of the beach areas would bring about many key improvements. This has not happened and the commercial sprawl onto public land is becoming ridiculous. Out on the water, the drone of jet skis has not only resulted in fatalities, but noise pollution and environmental damage continue to mount. In Krabi, jet skis have been banned. Swimming off the west coast of Phuket, however, is comparable with a jaunt across a busy motorway.
These items represent a fraction of the issues that must be dealt with to improve the quality of life and business in Phuket. There are problems with water supplies, law and order, deforestation, garbage collection, drainage and the ability of the local educational system to provide skilled graduates to work in Phuket's rocketing economy. This island is reliant on tourism; offshoots, such as property, transport and the service industries remain dependent on stability and growth.
It's important to provoke dialog and advocate change. Phuket is a great place to live – it's my home and my future – but it's not perfect. Here's to the New Year and working towards a better island, tackling each issue one day at a time.