PM pushes South plans

PM pushes South plans

Betong checkpoint to get upgrade to boost exports

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin smiles and greets local residents in Narathiwat with a wai during his visit to this southern province on Thursday. (Photo: Royal Thai Government)
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin smiles and greets local residents in Narathiwat with a wai during his visit to this southern province on Thursday. (Photo: Royal Thai Government)

The government has vowed to develop and promote the three southernmost provinces into tourist attractions for global travellers and to ramp up investments across the deep South.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin made the pledge following a three-day trip to Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala, which ended on Thursday.

As the southernmost provinces have the potential to become the nation's top tourist destinations, a well-thought-out development plan is needed to turn them into tourism hotspots, he said.

Among the issues the PM noted was the condition of the border checkpoint in Yala's Betong district, which he said needs to be upgraded to accommodate more movement.

He noted local residents in Yala have begun moving away from cultivating rubber trees to durian, which fetches high prices in markets across the region. However, exports from the district are limited by the number of vehicles which can pass through the small border checkpoint.

"I have already ordered the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Tourism and Sports Ministry to upgrade all border checkpoints across the country to make it easy for foreign visitors to enter, which will help boost tourism revenues," the prime minister said.

Mr Srettha also said the Transport Ministry is planning to expand Highway 410, which connects Betong district with Pattani, to other provinces.

"I visited Betong and saw its potential [for development]. Tourism is expected to boom in the future, and there aren't enough hotels to accommodate visitors.

"But the problem is, will there be enough sources of funding? It is my duty to ensure that banks are offering funding options for those looking to invest in the deep South to boost local tourism and economy," Mr Srettha said.

When asked to comment on the possibility of upgrading Narathiwat airport so it could accommodate pilgrims from the South and Malaysia, the PM said the government is looking into it.

"The government is trying to develop the area's tourist attractions and increase flight frequencies to attract more visitors,'' the prime minister said.

Mr Srettha then downplayed concerns about the viability of Betong International Airport in Yala, which remains unserved by commercial airliners since Nok Air pulled out of the sector.

He said while it will ultimately "depend on supply and demand", the government will try to come up with measures to boost the local economy and attract tourists.

"It is impossible to force any airlines [to fly to Betong airport]," he said.

Nok Air, which was the only airline serving Betong airport, decided to discontinue its flights to and from the airport after its "Flying Betong Direct" project ended in October 2022.

Meanwhile, Betong District Tourism Association is urging the government to expand Betong airport's runway under the prime minister's tourism promotion plan so it can accommodate larger aircraft and bring in more tourists to the region.

The association submitted a proposal for the expansion during Mr Srettha's visit to the district on Tuesday, said Narin Ruangwongsa, its deputy president yesterday.

Mr Narin said the association is urging the government to lengthen the runway from its current length of 1.8 kilometres to 2.5km to allow widebody jets to land at the airport.

The expansion will allow the airport to accommodate aircraft with 150-180 seats. At present, only 80-seater planes or smaller can land, he said.

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