Jan 20, 2007
Tourism operators are unhappy with progress
Tourism operators on the Koh Chang resort island have expressed concern over the snail-paced progress of a plan to turn the island into an upmarket tourist destination after the overthrow of the Thaksin Shinawatra regime. Concern was raised after the interim government slashed the development budget for the island and indicated possible changes to the board of directors of the Designated Area for Sustainable Tourism Administration (Dasta), a public organisation overseeing the island’s development work. Many tourism projects are currently encountering delays as investors are required to submit their projects to Dasta, which has been slow in approving them, said tour operator Jaroenchai Jaroensapwichit.
”The agency must speed up its work,” he said. Dasta was founded in 2003 under the deposed Thaksin government’s tourism promotion scheme. The scheme’s work also includes the construction of the Chiang Mai Night Safari, besides developing Koh Chang and Koh Phi Phi. The plan is to turn the two islands into tourism paradises for high-end tourists.
The agency, headed by former permanent secretary for environment Plodprasop Suraswadi, was assigned to oversee development of the Koh Chang project worth over three billion baht. It is required to finish the job by 2010, but its future now looks dim after the departure of the Thaksin administration.
The National Legislative Assembly late last year cut by half the 2007 budget of 487 million baht for Dasta.
Locally, the budget cuts are being taken as good news by people unhappy with the previous government and Dasta.
Many Koh Chang villagers have criticised the agency for ignoring the locals’ opinions on how to develop the island. The project has also caused land disputes and impacted badly on the envionment in many areas.
”Dasta should be dissolved because it has done little or nothing for the villagers,” said tambon Koh Kud administration organisation chairman Surachai Jan-op.
The villagers and the TAO had so far been restricted from carrying out their own development projects as they could not be implemented without the approval of Dasta, he said.
However, Prasart Rimchala, director of Dasta’s office for Koh Chang and its satellite islets, insisted that Dasta’s work had done more good than harm to the island. ”The island is growing as you can see from the number of hotels and resorts that are coming up. Everything is going well,” he said.
According to the Trat tourism business association, the number of tourists has increased gradually since Mr Thaksin announced his plan to make Koh Chang the ”Phuket of the East”. But its present trend could be cut short by the New Year’s bombings, which would also in turn deliver a blow to Dasta. ”After the bombings, around 10% of visitors to Koh Chang decided to leave the island for fear of their safety,” said the association’s chairman Kampon Jaroenkajornkul.
There’s no pleasing some people, first the pace of development is too fast and then it’s too slow. But it isn’t realistic to expect any future government to put money into plans put forward by a now deposed leader.