Phuket tourism operators are pushing for an integrated plan to establish the province as an exhibition hub by dusting off a long-delayed project for an international convention centre and making the island a free port city.
The plan should be accelerated before new environmental laws take effect, which would alter project design, said the operators.
The Public Health Ministry said on Nov 1 it cancelled its plan for a traveller health centre to be used for quarantines on the 140-rai seaside plot in Mai Khao subdistrict. The site was initially planned to be the first international convention and exhibition centre in Phuket.
Thanet Tantipiriyakit, president of the Phuket Tourist Association, said after the public and private sector voiced their concerns about using the space for a traveller health centre, they would like the government to use the land to create an economic impact for the whole province.
He said the tourism sector in Phuket already submitted a proposal for the exhibition centre to the provincial Joint Public and Private Consultative Committee (JPPCC) during the meeting this month and will forward the agenda to the Andaman JPPCC meeting in December.
Mr Thanet said the proposal contains three options the government should consider: a public-private partnership model that allows investment from a professional exhibition management company; assigning the related authorities to oversee the project's construction and management; or allowing the government to invest on its own and granting operating rights to the private sector.
New environmental laws are scheduled to be announced soon, expected to prohibit the construction of structures larger than 30,000 square metres in that area.
These laws could affect the current conceptual design of the exhibition hall, which requires space of around 32,000 sq m, he said.
If the government wants to progress with the same plan, this project should be expedited, said Mr Thanet.
"Phuket was announced as one of 10 Mice [meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions] cities in Thailand, but we're the only province that still doesn't have an exhibition hall," he said.
Former Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn previously proposed establishing Phuket as a duty-free island to lure tourism spending.
Mr Thanet said this idea should be adapted to a more suitable approach, making Phuket a free port province to support the island as a marina hub.
"The concept of a duty-free town might not catch on with tourists as in the past," he said.
"Introducing Phuket as a free port city will be more useful to lure specific groups, especially the marina market, as we already have four marinas with one expected to open soon."
Mr Thanet said the free port concept will enable yacht manufacturers and owners to consider using the province as a hub because they can import vessels or machine parts to the province without taxes or complicated customs procedures.
He said this plan could be integrated with the project to build an exhibition centre as Phuket could draw large cruise and yacht trade shows.
Local industry will benefit from technology transfers from experts and more jobs will be created if the province serves as a hub for yacht maintenance, said Mr Thanet.
"These two plans, the exhibition centre and free port policy, can complement each other as event organisers and international vendors would choose Phuket if they can import products to showcase at trade shows without worrying about taxes and complicated procedures," he said.