PHUKET: Local authorities on Friday ordered vendors on Patong beach to level the sand beds they have created in defiance of government policies to keep beaches clear for the public.

Local administrators and officers from the Third Fleet of the Royal Thai Navy met on Friday to discuss how to deal with vendors who have been piling up sand and spreading soft mats to woo tourists. The move violates a ban on beach chairs and umbrellas imposed with varying degrees of success at popular tourist spots throughout the country.

Most tourists and local residents have applauded the ban, as it addresses a common complaint about unsightly clutter on the beaches. Some beaches had come under the control of “deckchair mafia” groups bent on squeezing as much money as possible out of every square centimetre of sand.

Under the ban that took effect two years ago in Phuket, vendors were limited to using 10% of the space on Patong beach for their services including umbrellas, mats, food and beverage sales. Beach chairs were prohibited.

They must not place any object on the beach until a tourist approaches to seek their service. Only mats and umbrellas are allowed to be served when there are requests.

The sand beds emerged recently after a few big vendors on Patong created about 100 of the structures to rest the response.

“We want to set zero. There must not be a sand bench on Patong and other beaches. The sand must be levelled to its natural condition until district and provincial committees make a conclusion on Jan 15,” Rear Adm Pisai Sukwan, deputy commander of the Third Fleet, told the meeting on Friday.

Other participants in the meeting included Phuket deputy governor Sanit Sriwihok and Patong mayor Chalermluck Kepsap.

If the sand beds continued to exist, vendors elsewhere would copy them and the beaches would not serve the public interest, Rear Adm Pisai said. The Jan 15 meeting would decide whether beach chairs should be allowed to return or whether other options could be proposed to vendors, he said.

Miss Chalermluck said she believed beach chairs were really necessary for the vendors. She also said that vendors had told her earlier that sand beds were good for tourists who had problems sitting on and getting up from standard canvas deckchairs.