Phuket New Year Beach Party for 50,000 Likely to Spark 'Sustainability' Battle

PHUKET: A two-day electronic music New Year beach party for up to 50,000 people on Phuket is likely to fire up the debate about turning the Thai holiday island's public beaches to private profit.

Organisers of the December 30-31 party at Surin beach on Phuket announced yesterday that the event was expected to attract as many as 300,000 people to Phuket over the NY holiday period.

Celebrity Paris Hilton flew to Bangkok for the announcement and will be part of Phuket's 48-hour New Year, along with well-known international and Thai electronic musicians, DJs and celebrities.

Organisers say they will have the whole of Surin's 800 metre long ''beautiful beach'' for the event, with a 70-metre by 20-metre stage floating in the sea offshore.

What the organisers, Sydictive Element, did not reveal yesterday in Bangkok was the financial arrangement that provided them with the rights to stage the event on a public beach.

Environmentalists and well-heeled residents in villas around Surin beach have become increasingly concerned about the use of the beach and its surrounding public park space for commercial profit.

It is not known who approved the use of the public Phuket beach for a massive private event. New Phuket Governor Maitree Inthusud is expected to raise the project as an issue tomorrow.

The governor has moved his scheduled weekly Tuesday Morning Session with Phuket administrators and officials to tomorrow because today is a holiday for bureaucrats.

News of the Phuket New Year event emerged yesterday with a public announcement being made in Bangkok and reported initially in the Thai media.

Supacheep Wanchai, Director of Sydictive Element, said that Surin beach on Phuket had been chosen because it was not too long but could accommodate 50,000 people.

''The area is divided into zones of sand and grass,'' he said. ''We expect to have many Hollywood stars, people who are world-renowned, to join us.''

Among artists said to be already booked for the event are LMFAO, Basement Jaxx and Alex Gaudino.

The event will begin at 1 pm on December 30 and end sometime on January 1, Khun Supacheep said.

Today the Mayor of Cherng Talay, Mar-Ae Samran, told Phuketwan he was aware of the New year event, which would be free and open to all.

''We are going to announce this soon to the local Phuket media but I don't know when,'' he said. ''I need to talk to the Phuket Governor first.

''We want to promote Surin beach. It's a beautiful beach but we need more activities on the beach. Our aim is to hold more activities like this one on Surin beach.''

When Phuketwan recently questioned the mayor about the construction of a second beach club on the Surin shorefront, he told us that he had no idea about the community benefits from the Diamond Beach Club.

Mayor Mar-Ae said that 32 local residents held what are known as Nor Sor Rol titles to public land along the foreshore at Surin beach.

''We gain nothing from the shorefront beach clubs,'' he said. ''We also have no power to do anything.''

Some guests booking nearby resorts during Phuket's peak holiday season are expected to disapprove of the disruption likely to occur this Christmas-New Year.

It's likely to take at least a week to set up and dismantle the infrastructure necessary to cater for 50,000 people.

It is also not known what provision has been made for security with Phuket police. Phuket - like the rest of Thailand - has a zero drugs tolerance policy, so strict enforcement is likely to be applied.

Traffic control details have also not been made public.

A growing number of beach clubs along Surin and other once-pristine Phuket beachfronts have recently raised the issue of whether the beaches are still ''public.''

Vendors also make large amounts of money from holidaymakers on the sands at all of Phuket's west coast beaches during the November-April high season.

Next to none of that money is spent on beach maintenance or environmental protection. Phuket officials have lately raised ''sustainability'' as a key issue for Phuket's future.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand held a two-night beach party known as the Royfest at Karon beach, south of Surin and Patong, in 2010.

Although it was enjoyed by the thousands who attended, the noise and the traffic delays as the event was set up then deconstructed led to the idea of public beach parties being suspended until now.

The recent cancellation of the highly regarded Phuket Blues and Rock Festival for 2013 for want of a venue and the arrival of new beach clubs on several Phuket shorefronts indicates that Phuket's future may lie as the electronic music capital of Southeast Asia.

A countdown clock on the online site for the Surin New year party today records that there are just 67 days to go.

Although the mayor says the event is free, tickets are being offered on the site for 2000 baht each before October 31 and 3000 baht ''at the door.''

A 20-person ''private floating villa,'' one of four available, costs two million baht. Ten ''private beach cabanas'' are on offer for 1.5 million baht each.

Two hundred tables for four in the ''Deluxe Zone'' are available for 15,000 baht each.

Phuketwan believes that Phuket's public beaches will be privatised and eventually destroyed if left in the hands of local authorities. We advocate the creation of a single Phuket Beach Authority to manage them with consistency, and to put all income back into protection and maintenance.