PHUKET: Sports and Tourism Minister Sontaya Kunplome yesterday met Phuket CEO Governor Pongpayome Vasaputi and officials from Phang-nga and Krabi to discuss tourism development in the region. At the meeting, held in the Royal Phuket City Hotel, K. Sontaya said, “We are working to promote a positive image of Thailand abroad and to ensure its safety as a tourist destination. “Phuket’s hosting of some of next year’s APEC meetings is a good example of the international community’s confidence in Thailand. “Other important developments include the expansion of the Phuket International Airport and development of the International Conference Center,” he added. A major topic of discussion was the need to stress environmentally sustainable tourism. Pattanapong Aikwanich, President of the Phuket Tourist Association (PTA), suggested developing more tourist attactions, such as an “underwater world”, to help pull in more tourists during the low season. Krit Srifa, President of the Phang-nga Tourist Association, said, “Phang-nga is an eco-tourism province with such places as the Similan islands, Surin islands and Khao Lak.” He also stated his opposition to the construction of bungalows on the Similans, saying they could damage the environment there. Vatchara Poonpokpon, President of the Krabi Tourist Association, said tourism development should highlight the outstanding local features of each province while focusing on environmental protection throughout the region. Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Region 4 director Anupharp Teerarat said, “From January to June this year, 2 million tourists visited Phuket, bringing 35.9 billion baht into the province. The effect of Bali and the situation in the deep South provinces has been to reduce the number of tourists. “In December, tourism is picking up again because Christmas and New Year are coming. We expect that there will be 11 million tourists, and we will make 360 billion baht in the coming year,” he said.