South Thailand Hoping Improvements Make For Better Tourism

Miles of great beaches make for a picturesque descent into Narathiwat airport. Great tourist potential. - image courtesy of impactnewswire
Miles of great beaches make for a picturesque descent into Narathiwat airport. Great tourist potential. - image courtesy of impactnewswire
Written by Imtiaz Muqbil

The South Thailand provinces of Pattani and Narathiwat are pretty much at the bottom of the heap in terms of tourism. That is set to change over the next three years thanks to upcoming improvements in road and air accessibility.

An upgrading of Narathiwat airport is due for completion by mid-2025. A second bridge linking Malaysia and Thailand at the Sungai-Kolok border crossing is set to start construction in April 2025 and budgeted for completion by 2027.

A delegation of ambassadors and diplomats escorted on a familiarization trip to the South between 11 – 13 June 2024 had a chance to come up to speed with both projects. The trip was organized by the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC) to showcase the changes taking place in the Muslim-majority provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat. The group included diplomats from Brunei Darussalam, Egypt, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Nigeria, Indonesia and Uzbekistan, along with four Ambassadors of Thailand to Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates and Türkiye, and several senior MFA officials

The SBPAC is the primary agency responsible for overseeing development in the region.

The envoys learnt about the current situation and government policies to promote a multi-cultural society in the Southern Border Provinces, and the economic potential in terms of infrastructure, trade and investment, Halal-related business, and tourism. They visited various places that showcase the strength of the area and received briefings on the social, cultural and economic development plans. Boosting Travel & Tourism was clearly identified as being a mainstream agenda.

800px Southern thailand regions | eTurboNews | eTN

This map shows the geographical locations of the 14 Southern Thai provinces, and their proximity to Malaysia. Picture credit: Wikitravel.

As the charts below show, the years of unrest have clearly hurt visitor arrivals and hotel occupancies. Of the 14 provinces categorized as being part of South Thailand, six have direct airport access and enjoy bumper visitor arrivals. The seventh, Narathiwat, is lagging. Amongst the four Thai provinces bordering Malaysia, Satun and Songkhla on the Western side of the peninsula have done far better than Yala and Narathiwat on the East.

In all three charts, Pattani is at the bottom of the heap, with Narathiwat not much further above. This is what the Thailand Government plans to change.

IMG 9187 | eTurboNews | eTN
Screenshot 2024 06 21 at 13.49.07 | eTurboNews | eTN
Screenshot 2024 06 21 at 13.49.31 | eTurboNews | eTN
Screenshot 2024 06 21 at 13.48.56 | eTurboNews | eTN

The first project heading for completion is the upgrade of Narathiwat airport. A 12,000 sq m passenger terminal is under construction at a cost of 639 million baht to boost the passenger movements to 600 per hour or approximately 1.7 million people per year. The current 3,000 sq m terminal will be converted to handle flights taking Muslim pilgrims for the annual Hajj. The 2,500 metre runway can take widebody jets and considered okay for the moment.

This is what the terminal looks like presently.

IMG 4012 | eTurboNews | eTN
IMG 4008 scaled e1718970520415 | eTurboNews | eTN

Screenshot 2024 06 21 at 12.22.43 narathiwat airport | eTurboNews | eTN

Stats on passenger and aircraft movements at Narathiwat airport.

This is what the airport will look like after completion of the new terminal.

IMG 9328 Mfa narathiwat airport | eTurboNews | eTN
IMG 9329 Mfa narathiwat airport | eTurboNews | eTN

The second project is the border-crossing bridge between Thailand and Malaysia. These images below show the current bridge and slides of the new bridge, along with artists impressions.

IMG 9239 sungai kolok border | eTurboNews | eTN

The “river” which forms the border between Thailand (on the right side) and Malaysia at Sungai Kolok.

IMG 9240 sungai kolok border | eTurboNews | eTN

The current bridge between the two border checkpoints, with Malaysia on the far side.

IMG 9230 | eTurboNews | eTN

The border checkpoint on the Thai side.

IMG 9232 | eTurboNews | eTN

The writer just a few steps away from the Malaysian border. Unfortunately, I was not carrying my passport or else I would have walked over for some great curry laksa.

The slides below explain the new bridge projects in the pipeline.

IMG 9206 sungai kolok bridge | eTurboNews | eTN
IMG 9207 sungai kolok bridge | eTurboNews | eTN
IMG 9208 sungai kolok bridge | eTurboNews | eTN
IMG 9209 sungai kolok bridge | eTurboNews | eTN

A railway line has been in limbo since 2001.

IMG 9219 scaled e1718967505548 | eTurboNews | eTN

IMG 9244 sungai kolok railway bridge | eTurboNews | eTN

The railway bridge is lying unused, right next to the road bridge.

IMG 9243 sungai kolok railway bridge | eTurboNews | eTN

This is the railway bridge extending into the Thai side.

This slide below shows the five-point development agenda that is driving the collaboration. A lot of work lies ahead.

IMG 9192 | eTurboNews | eTN

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About the author

Imtiaz Muqbil

Imtiaz Muqbil,
Executive Editor
Travel Impact Newswire

Bangkok-based journalist covering the travel and tourism industry since 1981. Currently editor and publisher of Travel Impact Newswire, arguably the only travel publication providing alternative perspectives and challenging conventional wisdom. I have visited every country in the Asia Pacific except North Korea and Afghanistan. Travel and Tourism is an intrinsic part of the history of this great continent but the people of Asia are a long way away from realizing the importance and value of their rich cultural and natural heritage.

As one of the longest-serving travel trade journalists in Asia, I have seen the industry go through many crises, from natural disasters to geopolitical upheavals and economic collapse. My goal is to get the industry to learn from history and its past mistakes. Really sickening to see the so-called “visionaries, futurists and thought-leaders” stick to the same old myopic solutions which do nothing to address the root causes of crises.

Imtiaz Muqbil
Executive Editor
Travel Impact Newswire

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