BANGKOK, 3 June 2013 A place of deep enchantment, the southernmost region of Thailand makes up a multi-cultural society. Thailand is promoting tourism and transportation links between its five southern border provinces with other ASEAN partners, especially Malaysia and Indonesia, which are major Muslim countries in this region.
The Director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Narathiwat Office, Mr. Aman Mudadam, said that, in the initial stage, emphasis is placed on using tourism routes jointly between Malaysia and the five southernmost provinces, namely Songkhla, Satun, Narathiwat, Yala, and Pattani.
He said that the Tourism Authority of Thailand had contacted a tour agency to start a tourism route connecting Betong with Malaysia in a pilot project. Betong, about 115 kilometers from the town of Yala, is on the border with Malaysia and can further link with Indonesia. He believed that, with this connection and the extension of the validity of the Thai-Malaysian border pass, people would travel more across the border for tourism and business operation.
The Thai government in December 2012 agreed to extend the validity of the Thai-Malaysian border pass from six months to one year. The border pass covers five provinces in Thailand – Songkhla, Satun, Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani – and four states of Malaysia, namely Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis, and Perak.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand has told its office in Jakarta to step up a public relations campaign for the route from Thailand to Indonesia, passing through Penang in Malaysia and Hat Yai in Songkhla province.
Since most tourists along this route are Muslim, Mr. Aman suggested that local tourism operators improve their services in response to the demands of consumers, in terms of accommodation and food, especially halal food. Statistics show that, in 2011, three southern provinces – Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat – welcomed about one million visitors, bringing in four billion baht in circulation. Out of this number, 80 percent were foreign tourists and 20 percent Thai tourists. It is expected that when the ASEAN Community is in place in 2015, the number of Malaysian and Indonesian tourists in the deep South will increase by 10 percent annually.
The Thai government is accelerating the resolving of southern unrest, as lasting peace will contribute to economic and social development and improve the overall situation. The Ministry of Transport is mapping out an action plan on the development of the transport system in the southern border provinces. Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt said that several urgent projects are being planned to reduce transportation risks and facilitate travel for people in the deep South, as well as shortening traveling time between Thailand and the Malaysian border.
The projects involve the improvement of Highway 410 from the town of Yala to Betong with four lanes, the expansion of Betong and Narathiwat airports, and the development of a new sea port to accommodate industrial growth in the South. In addition, double tracks will be built on the rail line from Betong to Su-ngai Kolok in Narathiwat.
The Department of Land Transport is also in the process of equipping all vehicles in the deep South with radio-frequency identification (RFID), as a way of preventing acts of violence and providing both local residents and visitors with safety measures.