Cabinet approves plan for ‘Thai Riviera’

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Surfs up for sophisticated travelers! The cabinet of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has approved in principle a plan to transform a four-province strip of the Gulf of Thailand’s western coast into a luxury beach resort region, calling it the Thai Riviera project in a strategy supported by Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, government officials said last week.

Thailand is known for its many islands and white-sand beach resorts, but the four provinces have never drawn as many foreign tourists as Pattaya and other resorts on the east coast of the Gulf despite their natural beauty. While the east coast is extremely developed, the west coast is far less so, especially in two of the four provinces. That makes the entire area ripe for sustainable development.

The four provinces are Phetchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chumphon and Ranong. Petchaburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan are popular with local and some foreign tourists, particularly the seaside resort of Hua Hin, where the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej had a palace named “Far From Worry” that was a favorite place for him to repair to and rest from his hard work and responsibilities.

The fact that the Deputy Prime Minister has named the plan the “Thai Riviera Project” indicates that he intends the area to become a luxury destination, similar to the French Riviera and Italian Riviera. Thailand, in its tourism development goals, is seeking to raise its competitive edge in the luxury segment of the market.

The country’s extremely successful tourism sector has long served all ranges of tourists and market niches. Nonetheless, the Kingdom originally gained a reputation as a destination for backpackers and budget tourists because of the many extremely affordable places to stay.

The idea for turning the four provinces into a luxury resort area was first proposed over 10 years ago, but the government at the time lost power and the project was essentially forgotten.

To link the coastlines of the four provinces, the government has been building a 422-mile road that will include bike lanes, and should take five years to finish. About 125 miles of the road have already been completed, and another 30-mile stretch is under construction now.

Weerasak Kowsurat, the minister of tourism and sports, asked the Deputy Prime Minister to include community tourism as part of the project. That way, more locals will benefit and revenues can also be used for projects and programs that reduce social inequality, a key policy goal of the government.