Waging The War Of Political Tourism
The political overtones of the past few weeks over the Phuket International Convention and Exhibition Center in Mai Khao between the Pheu Thai and Democrat parties has continued to elevate the deep divide between north and south.
Thai Deputy Prime Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi's comments in the media about leveraging political support in exchange for the on again, off again mega complex at least bring the compelling issues at hand out into the open.
Despite the blame game misdirect playing out about the Environmental Impact Analysis (EIA) causing the cancellation of the Convention Center which had been approved by the prior Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, clearly the sea turtles are not the root cause. Welcome to Turtlegate.
When I take a step back and look at the interaction between Phuket and how it's tourism brand is managed by the country the best comparison I can look at Asia's other iconic destination island Bali. Indonesia has embraced ASEAN and it's ramp up to the APEC 2013 event later this year has been an all out effort.
The airport expansion, toll road, underpass and other key infrastructure will be completed in time for the showcase event and the government is heavily invested in the destination. Indonesia understands the global brand significance of both the country and its tourism leader Bali.
Sadly Phuket does not warrant similar respect from Bangkok. It's considered to be somewhere "up country" or down south, a provincial backwater. Despite the country promoting Amazing Thailand, and racking up impressive year on year visitor numbers, there is little recognition that the beast must be fed, investment by means of a national agenda must be made and Phuket embraced instead of being shunned.
Frankly speaking there is no immediate political solution and the only remedy remains taking the political agenda off the table for Phuket tourism. Both Bangkok and Pattaya are specially designated administrative areas which benefit from a dedicated government management approach. Certainly Phuket deserves a similar designation given the island's importance on the global tourism map.
What is clear is that for the moment is that Phuket tourism industry is a pawn for political gain. There is little doubt in my mind the island deserves more than it's getting.