Cablegate: Thanks but~ Chiang Mai Struggles with Development Designed in Bangkok
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
080153Z Nov 05
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CHIANG MAI 000233
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV PGOV KDEM ECON TH
SUBJECT: THANKS BUT~ CHIANG MAI STRUGGLES WITH DEVELOPMENT DESIGNED IN BANGKOK
CHIANG MAI 00000233 001.2 OF 002
1. Summary. After three years of rosy official promises and
assorted citizen protests, the Chiang Mai Night Safari's long-delayed unveiling during the Loy Krathong celebration has been quietly pushed back once again. Rather than announce another postponement, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will preside over a "closed opening" for invited business guests from Bangkok on November 16. The history of the project combined with plans for further tourism-promotion projects in Chiang Mai demonstrates that development and decision making remain centralized in the capital, far from local view or
influence. End summary.
2. Under the guise of giving tourists "something to do at night" Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra proposed a Chiang Mai Night Safari in 2002 after visiting the one in Singapore. Local business and community leaders liked the idea of high spending tourists and good employment opportunities but animal rights and environmental groups objected to the location and other plans mandated by the central government. .
3. Undeterred by citizen concerns or the lowered revenue expectations of the Night Safari, the government is following suit with a new series of tourism development projects under the
umbrella name of Chiang Mai World. A group calling itself the
"Love Chiang Mai Alliance" delivered a petition to the governor October 17 requesting more information and a voice in the planning but has yet to receive a response.
KEEP THOSE TOURISTS BUSY
4. Thaksin, who has pledged to help develop his hometown, is an avid proponent of turning Chiang Mai into a major tourist hub.
Tour businesses welcome the idea, citing Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) statistics that show the average visitor spends
only 2.7 days in Chiang Mai. According to this view, nocturnal
attractions in the city are limited to the Night Bazaar, "Khantoke" dinner shows, pubs and restaurants, and cabaret shows. Promoters of the Night Safari and additional tourism promotion projects assert that these additions to the city's nighttime charms will encourage tourists to stay longer and spend more.
5. Lined up in opposition are environmental, animal rights, and civic groups that have objected to almost every aspect of the
1.2 billion baht (US $30 million) Night Safari -- location, importation of animals from nature reserves in Kenya and Australia, consumption of precious water resources, and the redundancy of building a second zoo in a small city. "We call it the 'Narok (Hell) Safari'", a professor at Chiang Mai University's Faculty of Agriculture told the Consul General; "the plans to import animals don't even include any quarantine."
Even the name is problematic, in light of Singapore's copyright on the title.
6. In a reprise of Prime Minister Thaksin's symbolic landing
at Bangkok's not-yet-completed Suwannaphumi Airport in September, the November 16 ceremony at the Night Safari will not mean the start of operations. Instead, Prime Minister Thaksin will present the project to high level business people from Bangkok -- Chang Beer and Thai International are said to be on the list -- who will be invited to support the project financially. The public opening is now scheduled for New Year's Day.
7. The newly introduced business sponsorship idea suggests that the government needs an infusion of private cash despite the original rosy expectations of 1.8 billion baht (US $45 million) revenue annually. Current projections are for 900,000 Thai visitors and 300,000 foreign visitors per year, one sixth of the number predicted earlier but still on the optimistic side. With tickets priced lower than initially conceived (US $6 for Thais and US $10 for foreigners), the government now plans to fund the
project for seven years until it becomes self-supporting. In
line with these adjustments the director of the project stated November 7 that the Night Safari is "not profit oriented. We just want to provide a good attraction."
8. The high hopes of surrounding communities were similarly dampened as promised business opportunities failed to materialize. Only 5 percent of the staff hired for the Night Safari staff comes from the area, according to the Tambon Administration Organization (TAO) president, despite the fact that "the project's executives, when first lobbying for support, promised us that 30 per cent of the project's staff would be locals".
BIG PLANS, LITTLE INFORMATION
9. According to the "Love Chiang Mai Alliance," Bangkok now
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plans to expand the Night Safari to include an elephant park, the "Royal Flora Rajapreuk 2006" International Horticultural Exposition, a spa, an aquarium, a theme park, a cable car, monorail, convention center, plant cultivation center, ring road, bypass road, and accommodation inside the existing Chiang Mai Zoo. The Alliance estimates that the new development will occupy 23,000 rai (9,200 acres), mostly within Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, with a total investment of 12 billion Baht (US $300 million).
10. Among all these ambitious plans, the government has officially announced only the elephant park and the Ministry of
Agriculture's horticultural expo. The head of the Chiang Mai
Chamber of Commerce has called on the government to provide details of the projects, noting that "local people should be informed and be able to express our opinion and participate."
As yet no additional information on the development plans has been forthcoming.
11. Comment: With the latest Chiang Mai World ideas, the Bangkok administration appears to be playing "whack-a-mole" with activist groups, throwing up new centrally conceived development proposals faster than local citizens can figure out what's going on. Chiang Mai-born Thaksin has made it clear he supports development projects in his home province whatever the costs; environmental and cultural protection groups in the north are finding it hard to deflect the steamroller of Thaksin's development policy.