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Phuket, Battle To Preserve The Beaches.




Tourism remains Phuket's number one economic indicator, and ask any of the island's many visitors what was the deciding factor in their decision to take their holiday here, and more often than not the answer is the beaches.

While we have a myriad of tourist attractions, a growing number of golf courses and marinas, two large shopping centers, spas and international medical treatment, the key demand generator remains these stretches of white sand where the waves make landfall.

As of late, both the national and local media have sparked a good amount of interest in issues ranging from land developers limiting access to local fisherman, to the potential for marinas to damage the marine environment, to recent reports of the new Provincial Governor being denied beach access as he was conducting low profile inspections.

Read between the lines and clearly there is a witches' brew of issues boiling under the surface concerning the course of development being conducted here, and the strange bedfellow it makes with local commerce and the wider community.

More worrisome, perhaps, is the undertone taken on a broader class issue, being rich versus the poor, and the exploitation of natural resources for personal financial gain.

These are topics that are not going to go away, and this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is shaping up to be a long term challenge for Phuket.

From a legal perspective, all of Thailand's beaches are public.

Here in Phuket, no construction is allowed within 30 meters from high tide, and while encroachment is supposed to be reported to the building control department and the police, many such reports are now being addressed directly to the Governor's office for resolution.

The Civil and Commercial Code of Thailand specifically addresses public land and includes not only beaches but also highways, waterways and lakes .

The geography here often makes access an issue as many resorts, such as Le Meridian and Amanpuri/Chedi, have natural boundaries that restrict locals from simply walking onto "the beach without passing through private property.

While the environment and protection of the livelihood of those living below the poverty level are admirable objectives, shouldn't the same zealous campaigns be conducted in respect of squatters whose restaurants and shops lay within the public domain, illegal beach chair rental businesses, and the dangerous, and occasionally fatal,jet-ski and para sailing operations?

Arguably, these block the way of locals wanting to enjoy a beach picnic, and there have been large-scale, international protests about jet-skis damaging marine life, which ultimately affects the fish population and, in turn, the welfare of fishermen. Look at Prince Edward Island



on Canada's eastern seaboard, where fishing the Grand Banks was a primary livelihood for generations, and where, as fishing conditions changed, tourism moved in to supplement, or often replace, that dying way of life.

As with so many issues, much of what is at hand here lies within a nefarious gray area. If you are a tourist visiting Phuket, do you want to spend your days on hot sand with no beach lounger available to you? Or no drinks stand where you can grab a refreshment?

There is a reason that the much loathed and oft maligned beach entrepreneurs are there in the first place.

Visitors to the island want their services. Remove them and where will visitors get a beach chair? It's the same for the jet-skis and para sailing.

With limited tourist attractions, these vendors arguably provide loose tourist infrastructure that has evolved and worked over time.

If you apply the letter of the law across the board, there will no doubt be empty beaches - no lounge chairs, no vendors, and no tourists.

Phuket is a mass market with over 40,000 hotel rooms and 5 million visitors (last year) who need and demand beach-based facilities.

Ultimately, the reality is that there is no quick fix or easy answer.

One thing Thais in general are extremely capable of doing is finding compromise solutions.

While we can point to tourism models in such places as Hawaii, the reality is that a large amount of lower income employment here is generated by these quasi-legal operations.

Logically, on a much wider scale, there is a need for not only beach access but also facilities for adequate parking, sanitation and public toilets, and safety for swimmers as well as those just walking along the oceanfront areas.

Improving education for the impoverished and offering employment opportunities in higher paying tourism jobs would alleviate much of the presumed repression of the pool.

Summing it all up, fishing and marina issues are not going to be resolved in this column. But as in all things in Thailand, there has to be a balanced and pragmatic view as to what the biggest problems really are, and evaluation, planning and action for future solutions.

A fresh face in the Governor's office is an opportunity for new ideas to come forth and, as always there is potential for improvements.

While a select few may enjoy lovely views of the ocean from their upscale villas, it is likely, over time, that they will be seeing more and more of the public - in the water and on the sand - in front of them.





Bill Bamett is Managing Director of C9 Hotelworks a Phuket hotel and residential consulting firm With more 20 years experience in the region, he has played an active role in some of the island biggest develovments.

Articles: 2009

Koh Samui's Luxury Market Emerges


The Next Big Thing In Ocean Front Real Estate


Predicting The Year Ahead - 2009


Phuket For Sale


Is Phuket Property Too Expensive


Is Phuket Ready For Fractional Ownership?


Koh Samui's Emerging Luxury Market Part 2


The Winds Of Change


Phuket Luxury Villa Market Update Part 1




Archived Articles: 2007 - 2008


Krabi - On The Edge Of A Boom


Khao Lak, Back To The Future


Rental Income - Investment Rent And Raves


US Financial Crisis - Living The Sub-Prime Life


Hotel Branded Realestate, Battle Of The Brands


Aesthetics - Out With The New, In With The Old


Rental Property - Plus & Minus, Buying A Hotel Unit


Local Communities - Cables Gone Wild


Agent Commission, The Low Down About Paying Up


Aesthetics - Bold Designs Keep Boredom At Bay


Phuket - The Next Big Property Trend 2007


US Financial Crisis - Clouds The Property Horizon


Pre-plan your purchase, and prevent future pain


Vietnam, Too Fast Too Soon


Timeshare, High End Fractional Ownership Matures


How we should protect the property cash cow


Re-Inventing Patong


Budget Hotel Brands Shake Up The Scene


Property Developers - Number Crunching Pays Off


Bali, (property) Supply Surges Ahead


Aesthetics - Designing For Success


Phuket Luxury Villa Market Update Feb 2009


Low Season - Cyclical Cynics



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