Tourism operators in Phuket are strongly opposed to the government plan to build a traveller health centre on the plot previously planned for the international convention and exhibition centre.
The operators plan to submit a petition to the prime minister asking for an urgent revision.
Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, advisory chairman of the Phuket Tourist Association, said the 13th subcommittee under the Public Health Ministry, which was granted with the right to operate the 141-rai seaside plot in Mai Khao subdistrict from the Treasury Department, decided to change the plan from a new convention centre to a traveller health centre.
He said since this change was approved, communities and tourism operators in Phuket still have little information about the proposed health centre as it has never appeared in a development plan for Mai Khao.
Some reports noted this project might be used as a quarantine centre for possible outbreaks such as Covid-19 in the future, said Mr Bhummikitti.
He said tourism operators from more than 10 associations plan to submit a petition to Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin and Public Health Minister Dr Cholnan Srikaew soon, requesting the government revise the project or conduct a public hearing before proceeding.
They also want to ask the provincial Joint Public and Private Sector Consultative Committee to consider this issue.
Mr Bhummikitti said scrapping the convention centre would be a lost opportunity for the province, which has been promoted as a Mice (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) city and a gateway to southern Thailand.
In past decades, there were many requests from international organisations that wanted to bring large events to Phuket, but there was not a big venue to accommodate those demands, he said.
Mr Bhummikitti said organisers had to pivot to Bangkok, Singapore or Malaysia instead.
Development of an exhibition centre in Phuket has been pushed back for many years. The plan was cancelled in 2012 after the cabinet decided not to allocate 2.6 billion baht for the project.
The plan to utilise the plot in Mai Khao for a convention centre was recently revived as part of a long-term development plan for Phuket after the Specialized Expo 2028.
However, the expo bid was rejected in June this year, prompting the Public Health Ministry to consider a traveller health centre instead.
Mai Khao is the most appropriate location for an exhibition centre thanks to easy connections to the Phuket airport and the ability to generate tourist flow to Phangnga province, he said.
Moreover, there's no public land plot in Phuket on which to build a Mice facility of this size, said Mr Bhummikitti.
A quarantine centre would have only one six-storey building and could be relocated to another location, such as Bang Khanun Forest Park, as proposed by Vachira Phuket Hospital.
Thanet Tantipiriyakit, president of the Phuket Tourist Association, said the association is working with the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau to research the economic impact of a large exhibition centre in the Andaman provinces. He said tourism operators are confident the benefits from an exhibition centre would be much greater than a quarantine centre.
"We're confident the prime minister is sensible enough to listen to our voices as he visited Phuket two times in the past few months and acknowledged that locals have wanted this project to happen for many years," said Mr Bhummikitti.