The airing of the “Wir Retten Ihren Urlaub!” (“We Save Your Holiday!”) German television show scheduled to display images of Kata-Karon resorts dumping water containing faecal matter into the sea nearby swimming places for tourists and children has thrown Phuket into a full media damage control spiral.
The threat comes as Kata-Karon’s “Heaven on Earth” publicity campaign, featuring outdated airbrushed images of Phuket to promote attractions on the island, has only just been launched this week-end. It offers a damaging perspective of how local authorities choose to promote Phuket compared to the lackadaisical controls they actually hold on waste water pollution and other tourist repellents.
This is not a single incident, however. Phuket’s reputation has recently been severely tarnished by accusations of raping a young Swedish tourist brought to a Karon taxi driver only one day after Kata-Karon authorities underlined their commitment towards making the area more secure for visitors. The news about the damaging German television show reporting how five resorts dump polluting waste water filled with hazardous bacteria in the Kata-Karon sea came to Phuket Governor Tri Augkaradacha’s ears only two days after Saturday’s launch of the Kata-Karon “Heaven on Earth” banner and project, which aimed to reverse the area’s quickly-growing issues.
Nevertheless, the news come too late to prevent the major blow Phuket is set to receive on tourism once “We Save Your Holiday!” will be broadcast across most of Europe next month, but they raise questions on what will follow on television screens in Europe, Australia or anywhere else in the world. Serious problems also exist with jet-ski scams, blockades and exaggerated fairs charged by local taxis and tuk-tuks and greedy thugs or companies getting their hands on the island’s beaches. All in all, the tolerance Phuket authorities have had for corruption, greed and other past mistakes so far is beginning to take its toll on the region’s tourism potential.
The news about the “We Save Your Holiday!” show broadcasting information of the five resorts allegedly dumping waste water into the sea at two of the island’s most popular beaches were delivered to Governor Augkaradacha yesterday by German honorary consul Dirk Naumann. Mr. Naumann also stated that the show is Germany’s most popular TV travel show and will also be screened across Scandinavia, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Governor Augkaradacha was also offered a CD showing tests that confirm how the waste water of one resort was full of faecal material, with Mr. Naumann confirming that this and four other resorts will be named during the show, but that the new beach-front Centara Grand at Karon was not part of them.
“Although it might be very unfair, as far as past experience tells me, this will damage Phuket seriously and I suggest that you develop a strategy to minimise damage”, Mr. Naumann added. He also said that a similar report regarding a Turkish destination made by the show had been followed up after six, twelve and twenty-four months, when the program finally reported that German tourists were safe to return there.
Local Phuket residents are well aware that waste water is only one of the island’s major issues, even though Saturday’s launch of the “Heaven on Earth” campaign avoided tackling the major problems and focused on highlighting positive aspects and only admitting minor flaws. Organisers started giving away the first of a million postcards and t-shirts to the media and offered information on the large and still controversial public Karon beach swimming pool to be built only for ‘registered’ members. Moreover, the postcards show Kata and Karon free of any lounges, in a state in which they were many years ago, or strongly airbrushed, with scenes of the simple thatch villages and rice fields that existed in the area before the 21st century being offered on display.
On the bright side, authorities admitted that a great amount of work still needs to be done. Year-round beach cleaning, protection of the few mangrove regions left alive, zoning for billboards, turtle releases, coral reef recovery support, an increase in zebra crossings numbers, walking streets, welcome arches, YouTube promotion, better training for vendors and workers, as well as increased public safety measures were all advertised as parts of the project. The last item is especially important as Karon is well-known as the most dangerous beach on Phuket, particularly between April and December.
However, issues such as jet-ski scams or the taxi and tuk-tuk drivers monopoly over transport on the island were completely avoided.
Responding to the news of the upcoming broadcast, Governor Augkaradacha declared that a special committee will be organised to provide two-monthly updates on waste water quality around Kata-Karon, with any resorts breaching standards to be closed down.