Phuket's tourism and property development sectors have urged Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin to quickly consider their proposal for an Andaman Wellness Economic Corridor (AWC) to keep pace with the global trend in wellness and boost related investment and the tourism industry.
The call follows Mr Srettha's visit to Phuket and Phangnga on Aug 25-26 after taking office to engage with locals and gather opinions from the private sector to explore ways of promoting tourism in the two provinces.
There, a group of businessmen led by Kan Prachumphan, CEO of the Beach Group and Andaman City Development Co, and head of an economic investment stimulation research project in Phuket, submitted the AWC proposal to him for consideration.
The AWC proposal initiated during the Prayut Chan-o-cha government says the corridor will be created in six Andaman provinces (Phuket, Krabi, Phangnga, Ranong, Trang and Satun) in a similar manner to the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC).
It will help the economy recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and generate income in a wellness and medical tourism sector known for high growth potential.
Phuket is a centre for the treatment of complex diseases, gender affirmation surgeries, spas in public and private hospitals, international conventions and exhibitions and has a world-class wellness centre.
Phangnga is a marine tourist service hub in collaboration with the Sky Doctor service, has a claims centre for collecting medical expenses from foreigners to reduce bad debts and has developed a climate therapy treatment system for long-stay tourists including a dental centre.
Krabi promotes the development of the Klong Thom Spa. Trang is the food city hub and wellness destination hub in the Andaman area.
Satun will be developed as a long-term residence city. Ranong has hot springs and spas for healing purposes.
"We do not want the prime minister to forget it. We want it to happen in the region as quickly as possible," Mr Kan told the Bangkok Post.
Helping to pave the way for the AWC, Mr Kan said the government should increase funding to develop Phuket International Airport to handle an international tourist influx expected to reach around 18 million visitors by next year.
The government should also speed up a new airport in tambon Khok Kloi of Phangnga, he said. This airport project will be the catalyst to generate revenue in the region.
"I'm confident these Andaman provinces have the potential to serve as an aviation industry hub in the Southeast Asian region," he said.
As well as the airport development, he said the government should amend laws that obstruct the setting up of the AWC in the coastal provinces.
To draw more investors and tourists, Mr Kan suggested the government support Phuket's Sister City of Investment policy to help promote finance and investment in the region to further develop real estate, hospitality, a mass transport system and a digital finance market on the island.
Phuket may consider cooperating with a city from China, Hong Kong or Singapore to develop its cable car project.
He also proposed the Transit Oriented Development and Land Bridge project to boost connectivity of the transport network in the Andaman region by developing the mass transit system and creating new landmarks with new technology.
For example, Phuket Old Town in Muang district should develop its mass transit system to cater to visitors, together with creating a shopping zone and port, he said.
Phuket also plans to develop a labour market to serve as a smart city.
"Phuket is already considered a 'workation city' that is home to quality workers from all over the world whose skills are based on digital knowledge and service experience," Mr Kan said.
"Some foreigners in vacation groups originally planned a short-term stay on the island, before deciding to buy real estate for a long-term stay. This can also stimulate the economy," he said.
The government's free-visa policy and tourism promotion will help spur the purchase of real estate in Phuket and the Andaman provinces which will also boost people's income, he said. He urged the government to amend the law to allow foreigners to buy real estate.
New law for AWC proposed
Thanapat Uttawarapong, an analyst from Andaman City Development, said setting up the AWC is not an easy task but the government cannot avoid it.
Mr Thanapat suggested the government pass a special law to remove legal obstacles that stand in the way.
"If we have the special law and the prime minister can establish the project, trials can be complete within two years," he said.
He said the private sector fully supports the AWC project.
They are also ready to help push for other development projects no matter whether they are involved with the real estate sector, hotels or SMEs.
Once the AWC is completed, money from all over the world will flow into Phuket and other Andaman coastal provinces, he said.
Meanwhile, a source said Mr Srettha and his team are scheduled to visit Phuket and Phangnga again on Sept 29-30 to follow up on the development of Phuket International Airport and other tourism development projects to welcome foreign tourists to Phuket during the peak season in November.