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New Thai PM visits Phuket, talks tourism and new airports

Thailand’s new PM has chosen Phuket and Phang Nga as the first provinces he would visit after being elected to the position last Tuesday.

Srettha Thavisin has unveiled plans to enhance tourism in Phuket and expand its airport’s capacity ahead of an anticipated surge in international visitors during the upcoming high season in November. Exactly could be done between now and November to increase the airport’s capacity was not explained.

Visiting the airport with other Pheu Thai representatives, Srettha engaged in discussions with the airport’s management to gain insights into the expansion process aimed at accommodating the rising influx of tourists. The focus was on fortifying the airport’s infrastructure to cater to the growing demand.

The current airport is somewhat hemmed in by the adjacent neighbourhood and structures, not related to the airport. As for the runway, it is constrained by Thepkasattria Road at the east end and the coastline at the other (although it could be extended out into the sea or a tunnel added at the east end for traffic to pass). But even if the runway was extended to allow larger planes, the buildings to facilitate the processing of passengers and more car parking would be difficult to achieve at the current location.

During a meeting with Phuket’s private sector representatives at the Ramada Plaza Chao Fah Phuket Hotel, Srettha committed himself to Phuket’s growth, despite his party’s limited political presence in the region. He emphasised the necessity of prioritising the nation’s welfare over past political fights.

Srettha underscored the significance of tourism as a catalyst for short-term economic growth during economic downturns. He said the working group is here to gather opinions and feedback from local tourism stakeholders, indicating that the Pheu Thai government would extensively promote the tourism sector, including aspects related to airlines, airports, security, visa policies and possible longer stays for tourists.

He said the new Pheu Thai government will develop policies aligned with the needs of Airports of Thailand, which oversees various airports in the country, including Phuket International Airport.

Despite China’s economic slowdown and reduced international travel encouragement, Srettha noted that Chinese tourists continued to visit Thailand. He recognised Phuket’s pivotal role in Thailand’s tourism-driven revenue, being the second most visited location in the Kingdom, after Bangkok.

Discussions also included a proposal for an airport in Phang Nga, part of a broader master plan for the Andaman region The potential airport in Phang Nga follows studies and interest from tourism operators in other Andaman provinces. They urged the new PM to invest in a larger-scale aviation hub in Phang Nga, as expansion limits were reached in Phuket.

Pongsakorn Ketprapakorn, president of the Tourism Council of Phang Nga, revealed plans to propose a comprehensive plan to Srettha. This included constructing a new airport in Khok Kloi, acknowledging the region’s growing tourist demand post-pandemic. The new airport would accommodate larger aircraft, up to the giant Airbus A380. The new airport capacity could double that of Phuket airport without any logistical constraints.

To connect the Andaman provinces, an electric bus project was also proposed. This project aimed to provide efficient transport from the new airport to Phuket and Krabi. Pongsakorn argued that the surge in tourism necessitated a new airport, with Phang Nga’s tourism recovery already reaching 70% of 2019 levels.

Tourism operators recommended an airport developed by the AoT rather than a private sector concession. This was a quiet slur to the Samui Airport which is owned and managed by Bangkok Airways, hindering aviation opportunities for the Gulf island with high costs and high air fares with its monopoly.

Santisuk Klongchaiya, CEO of Thai AirAsia, highlighted Phang Nga’s potential to alleviate the current congestion at Phuket airport. He endorsed the idea of public, rather than private, investment in the new airport.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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