Marina Ban Much Ado About Nothing
The Phuket Gazette.
Viewing the recent capitulation of a number of the island's public policies is making me feel as if I just drank a dozen mojitos and danced the night away to the macarena. After all good nights, reality and sunrise eventually rear their ugly heads and some sense of sanity along with a jackhammer of a hangover ensues. My head is spinning regarding disputes over roads through forests, the now infamous Patong jet-ski video, foreigners owning all of Phuket's beach land and now, of course, reportedly a ban on marinas.
Politics and business make strange bedfellows in virtually every country of the world. I recently attended a property conference in Bangkok where a very respected Thai professor was speaking about political risk for investment and commented, “Today's news is no news at all. Local politics has been a mess for the past 40 years, so what's new about that.”
In Phuket we have some conflict of our own. First we had some head butting between the provincial leadership and environmental department, apparently triggered by the halting of a road project. Then came the reviews by the International Education Exchanges and Environmental Impact Assessment. The next thing we know, reports hit the wire declaring there will be no more marinas allowed in Phuket because of their impact on the environment and peoples' livelihoods.
Let's face it, most investors and locals have developed a thick skin to the sometime irksome announcements made by the media, aware that the tide which can rise quickly, can also fall just as quickly. But there is a dark underbelly here which is damaging for the potential property buyer and smaller, less-sophisticated investors who are studying purchases long and hard in today's challenging economic times. For these people, there is often a reaction to negative stories which might see them move to a more developed and transparent marketplace.
With some 40 hotels and close to 7,000 hotel rooms in progress on the island, approvals to expand the airport, doubling the capacity of visitors from 6 to 12 million and the continued focus on more inter-regional airlift, it seems that Phuket needs to up its ante to deal with a greater volume of business.
As a destination – aside from beaches, golf, shopping and some tourist attractions – there remains a limited amount of new experiences for tourists. Phang Nga Bay, with its greatly untapped potential for more visitors, has been hampered by access problems for a number of years.
Saying 'no' to marinas affects the tourist market, places limitations on the existing yachting business and will impact upon the service industry and property markets. Surely jet-skis pose more of a danger to both the human and fish species of Phuket than well- maintained and constructed marinas? What about the recently announced hydrofoil service to floating piers in the Similan islands? How much attention is being given to environmental concerns there?
On the back of the apparent marina ban has been some negative publicity for Koh Lon's Taj Exotica project. While now incurring delays, I have to wonder about the future marginal income earning fishermen who will benefit from the project. Currently, their children struggle with few educational opportunities and families and communities struggle with poor infrastructure and a lack of access to clean water, electricity and other things we take for granted here in Phuket.
How many of these fishermen's children won't go to university or will have no access to the internet? Like it or not, most luxury resorts pay good wages, have good benefits and those communities where they are housed have prospered, benefiting not only for the workers, but their children as well.
It's difficult to say who is speaking out for tourism at the moment or if they've just come down with a cold and lost their voice. Cause and effect with regard to policy has serious long term ramifications and, while strongly agreeing that Phuket needs a long-term conservation policy, it need not be at the expense of the poor or those who rely on the industry to make a living.
As I sit here writing this on a Sunday, I have to muse what the coming week will bring in this age of political debate. As for marinas, this remains a serious issue and needs careful consideration as a part of a blueprint for Phuket's future.