Rubbing Tourism the Right Way
It is an age-old tale, of a lone castaway washing up on some deserted palm fringed island. Crawling to shore, the survivor spots a tarnished brass lamp sticking out of the sand in the harsh afternoon sun. Waves wash over the metal object as if in slow-motion.
Snatching, it up like some street bum hustling for change, our hero frantically rubs the glowing treasure trove. Out pops a genie from the bottle and speaking in a booming voice announces: "Seven wishes are yours and yours alone."
If only this were so for Phuket. As we enter the next decade, a brand-new year has fallen off the roof like some random billboard and nearly killed the dog. Near hits and misses are becoming a regular part of island life, with the arrival of most developments making life on Phuket resemble an upside-down cake.
So what does our Phuket ship-wrecked lost soul desire for 2011?
Perhaps some footprints in the sand could lead us towards making some of those elusive wishes to reality.
But be warned: As we march toward our collective future, our genie could be set for a little tough love and an inevitable bruise or two.
Being a simpleton at heart, I feel the need to point out that the island's welcome mat is placed well north of center on the island, with the two most voluminous feeders of traffic on the island being the airport and Sarasin Bridge.
With the exception of the already established main north-south highway, there is little room, if any, left to create wider coastal roads or a secondary holistic thoroughfare.
The controversial delayed new road from Kathu to the airport makes absolute sense and would be an enormous help.
Ongoing tales of light rail tracks to Phuket Town and public buses seem to defy logic given Phukek's exceedingly large footprint and half-urban, half-rural demographic.
Building an expressway on top of the existing artery or a series of strategic flyovers seems to be a model other similar developing destinations have pursued with success.
Special administrative zone:
Revolving provincial leadership has created a series of ups, downs and a twisted pathway in establishing and executing long-term plans for the island. Both Bangkok and Pattaya have self-determined status as they can elect leadership rather than see someone appointed.
The benefits of continuity, sustainable vision and some sort of accountability is key. Phuket as a high-growth economic contributor to the national economy deserves its own place at the dinner table.
Tourism infrastructure projects:
You can only rely on a cushy seat on the gravy train for so long. The stage in fat cat city is getting crowded. Singapore, Macau, Malaysia and Vietnam are like a hungry pack of wolves after a greater share of the lucrative tourism market.
Mega projects and tourism attractions must be encouraged, incentivized and promoted in order to remain part of the starring cast of characters. Hotel rooms will be left empty unless there are drivers for the destination of Brand Phuket.
3G, Internet quality:
As Asia leads the pack in recovery from the global financial crises, the playing field between East and West is leveling. A storyline from developing into developed nations is on the scorecard of most nations in the region.
Thailand's 3G saga needs to end. Add in the basic human needs of water, housing, food and that fourth necessity of any thriving metropolis: fast internet connections.
The powers that be may have been tied up seeing red lately, but now a firm priority has to be catching our neighbor's tiger tails.
The messy continual sprawl of new build exuberance is on display 24/7. Comprehensive zoning initiatives and tax and regulation incentives for redevelopment of properties that encourage upgrades instead of green field development should be the cornerstone.
Changes in the Board of Investments policies are called for to allow foreign investors to take up existing projects that would be upgraded and modernized, instead of only creating more widespread building and under-mining supply-demand fundamentals.
Bank financing for foreign property buyers:
Until the country opens its doors to finance for foreigners, its attractiveness to overseas buyers to kickstart a sustainable recovery is doomed to a rapidly diminishing piece of the pie.
Whoosh! A sudden gust of wind catches the genie, carrying him beyond the ocean horizon before our castaway's seventh wish can even be heard.
Our survivor stands on the shore alone, the waves tickling his toes with the promise of a new year of tropical sunsets and sunrises leading to pangs of angst and hope.
Somewhere out there, only a whispered, "Be careful what you wish for," is all that can be heard.