Never A Dull Moment
The Phuket Gazette.
The work of many a writer is commonly used as a spring board for reader's comments, opinions, suggestions and complaints. These exchanges range from the complimentary pat on the back to anger and castigation where people cry out about many of life's little injustices. One thing for sure, it's never dull, but the few enlightened exchanges from those whose opinion may vary largely from one's own, spurs thoughtful retrospection.
One of the under-commented phenomena of the internet age has been the improvement in people's writing skills. Despite those who say the age of reading is just a memory, the proliferation of news sites, blogs, social networking arenas and of course twitter has taken sharing the views of the masses to unprecedented levels. Virtually every man, woman, child – even those clever monkeys at NASA – who can operate a computer can extol their unique take on the larger world around them.
Viewing comments on this column over the past few weeks, a number of local residents have indicated their concern about the development community's failure to protect Phuket's environment. The over development of the island's pristine coastlines and the community's seemingly little regard for the impact of building luxury products which block views, access and affect mangroves and marine life.
Some have pointed out that this column, at times, has leaned towards a pro-business angle and has turned a blind eye to the growing worries about sustainability and how Phuket is changing from its once revered sleepy tropical outpost into a concrete jungle. All of these are fair points and I'm the first to applaud those who take the time and effort to thoughtfully put their beliefs and concerns into words. I'm also certain that many of these opinions reflect the views of a much larger body of people.
Taking on the 'Property Watch' column nearly three years ago, the mandate from the Gazette was clear: address the information needs not only of those who were involved in aspects of real estate, but cast a wider net to include the agents, media, builders, buyers, lawyers, hotels, service providers, architects, engineers and those who sought business news specific to our island.
Over the years, the column has reached people from abroad who subsequently invested in property on the island and also those who planned to retire on Phuket. These people all wanted updates on significant property and tourism activity, but also opinions or interpretations of important legal, government and private industry goings on. It's a wide basket of issues, but certainly events such as SARS, the Thaksin coup and most recently the global financial crisis – as serious a financial affair as we've experienced in our lifetime – are subjects that demand attention.
Over the course of a year in my other life as a hospitality consultant, I travel throughout the region attending conferences and events. Since the political upheavals of the past few years, investor sentiment has waned and the sentiment in most of our neighboring Asian countries has been strongly and pointedly anti-Thailand, resulting in a certain knock on effect for Phuket. I have been frank in my response, both in issuing factual market research and in media reporting, giving the Phuket brand a voice both here and overseas. Without a positive voice in the larger world, it's too easy for our industries and the livelihoods of so many here to evaporate.
Earlier this year, I undertook an initiative to launch an internet news service, thephuketinsider.com, to provide daily hotel, tourism and property news not only to the island, but to a growing number of overseas readers who wanted to be up to date. And yes, it was done to let people know that Phuket was indeed live and well in these trying times. The response has been excellent and while our target remains to focus on these core sectors, a few months ago a new section called 'The Green Report' was added. Not being an expert in the field, I've enlisted the heads of sustainability at award winning groups such as Banyan Tree and Six Senses, both recognized as pioneers of 'green' hotel initiatives.
These individuals contribute articles and are also looking to formulate a wider local organization in Phuket. Scanning the past blog articles, beach clean ups, visual pollution, garbage and sanitation, and infrastructure are all prominent features. While a growing number of people – both locals and expats – continue to voice displeasure over the development of beachfront land, it's important to note that, for the most part, the developments – luxury hotels, villas or restaurants – are being carried by land owners simply exercising their legal rights over their property.
Thankfully, there are still large tracts of public land such as Sirinath National Park and many others, which are available for public access and use by the growing populace. Of equal concern needs to be public beaches such as Patong, where access is blocked illegally by tuk tuks, commercial shops and a menage of clutter that is constructed in areas designed for access by everyone. Progress and the result of a growing population and increased industrial work has produced a development footprint not only made by villa owners, but by those who own a home, apartment or even a bungalow.
It's very likely that where your home or business now stands, trees and nature once occupied the same space and have since had to relocate. With this in mind, the goals and concerns that so many, including myself, believe are important essentially fall on each and every one of us here. For this column and the blog, we welcome the continued activism by those concerned about long-term damage to Phuket. I have two small daughters, one six months old and another three years old. My wife and I have taken a conscious choice to raise our family here with the wish that our family will grow up on this island and that the next generation stay and prosper.
It remains our mission to make sure we have been responsible caretakers for the legacy we leave behind and in my case this is two-fold: One, helping the island's business community prosper in some small way, reporting on property and tourism which results in jobs, family welfare and education; and two, recognizing the uphill struggle for realistic sustainability.