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Jim McCoy warns that parts of Phuket are already resembling Pattaya

Phuket Warning Signs for a 'Pattaya Future'

Thursday, September 30, 2010
Phuket Road Show Photo Album Above

IN AUSTRALIA, people talk about holidays on Phuket. Thailand is seldom mentioned. That's because direct flights - combined with joint currency rises - have put Phuket and Australia in lockstep.

But the Phuket part of this marriage made in heaven faces possible divorce. A lot needs to improve if the romance is to continue. Tuk-tuks . . . rip-offs . . . quality of service . . . these are just some of the questions raised by travel agents in Australia on this month's Phuket road show.

Here's the warning message to Phuket from Jim McCoy, general manager of Sydney-based Specialist Holidays:

''I started working with Phuket in 1988. It's changed a lot. I'm not sure if all of it is for the better. It's almost getting too busy and too big in Patong. My fear is that it is going to start to be like Pattaya, and that is a concern.

''All of the resorts that are being built there and the management of the resorts is good, overall the quality is great. Hoteliers who have been there for a long time, like the Merlin Group and Holiday Inn, and others that have been established for many years are in good shape. They provide a very good product and top service.

''The problem is - and it's not just restricted to Phuket - the problem is that there are so many hotels coming on so many resorts and there's a lack of real professional ability to manage those.

''A lot of those hotels are being built by investors who are not in the industry, they are from construction or they own department stores, and they think getting into hotels is a great idea, because 'my friend has one'.

''So they build one too, but there's just not enough good mangement coming through. I think the government needs to address that with the Thai Hotels Association and the Department of Tourism needs to come up with a plan. They need to look at traineeships, sponsored trainee ships, where they look at the top 15 percent of graduates from the university doing tourism and hospitality and guarantee them a job with the hotels who agree with the concept. They agree to pay 50 percent of their salary as an indentured trainee for 12 months.

''Those trainees have to then go through each department of the hotel, and then at the end of 12 months they are graded by the hotel management and they say, 'Yes we want to keep them' or 'No they are not suitable.' And if they say yes, we want to keep them on, they would then have to sign a two-year contract to say that if they leave, they have to pay back the money.

''And then they get put into a department where they have a forte, so if someone was good at sales and marketing, they would go into that department. That would then raise the standard of middle management and lower management in hotels, which are really struggling to get decent people to operate their product.

''The other thing that needs to be addressed is further down, also because I firmly believe that the real product of 2010 Plus is safety, security, and service. Now get those things right, and you're almost assured of a good holiday, because if you're doing those things right, your product will be well looked after. You can build a beautiful hotel, but if you have lousy service, everyone says 'It's a lousy hotel'.

''You can have a three star or a four star or even a two star but if your service is excellent, people say 'I had a great holiday it's a real nice little hotel. Everything worked. I'm happy I got value for money'. And that's what you really need to be aiming at. Until the manpower issues are addressed, and keep pace with the explosion of rooms, it's going to be an issue.

''There should be enough entrepreneurial sorts in Thailand to say, 'Hey, I'm going to put something in there'. You've got Phuket FantaSea, you've got trips to the islands, you've got loads of restaurants, you've got elephant trekking, all those things are there. It's a case of making sure they are done well, and exposing them properly, and ensuring there are not people being ripped off.

''I find it really annoying now walking down the streets of Patong, because you are getting all of these supposedly Thais jumping out and saying, 'Do you want a suit', or 'Come to my restaurant'. If people want to buy something, let them have a look and say 'Is there anything I can do to help,' and do it in a civil manner. But this aggression in trying to grab you is just not on.

''In Soi Bangla, ok, we all know that's a bit of a zoo, and there is a place for that. But it can be a little bit over the top, particularly when you think that families are walking down there with young kids. Is that really what they need to be seeing? Sure, there's always an adult entertainment area everywhere, but it has to be controlled.

''Tuk-tuk drivers and prices have become a real issue. I know that they have become very aggressive on price and that they're pretty dangerous to deal with in some cases. I think that some of the hotels have done the right thing in having an agreed rate, and they tell the customer and they tell the tuk-tuk driver and you get in and you pay your 100 baht.

''But I think it's this mafia thing that, really, the governor and the government need to rustle up enough muscle and be very aware of what they are doing. It all leaves a very nasty taste in the tourists' mouths. They go home and tell everybody else, 'Don't go there, you get ripped off. They'll rob you', or whatever.

''Phuket probably has grown too fast, but people would say that's progress, that's part of business, and it is. People take a risk, build something, that's ok. But maybe the government needs to do a study of the number of rooms and what hotels are available, what it's doing to average rates, and that sort of thing. You have a situation like Bangkok or Chiang Mai where you are going to have empty hotels all over the place.

''So you end up with bad debt, you get a lot of people who are out of work, and that enhances the probability of crime. The issue is, if you build a hotel and you've got 200 rooms and you want 200 staff, and then you can't pay them, what are they going to do? Where do they go?

''So it just brings the whole thing down, and it will all eventually collapse. The government needs to be a little bit careful about how many hotels they allow to be built in a given period. If you get an overbuild situation, it drives rates down, it drives income down, the service charge goes down, everything goes down, down, down, and the bottom of the deck people are not earning what they were going to earn, so you end up with a major problem.

''Overall I think environmentally Phuket could have been a lot worse. They have tried to keep pace with the growth in terms of water treatment and all of that, and they are the things they really need to keep on top of: refuse disposal, water treatment plants, clean water, all those things. They need to be a bit careful that they don't cut up the island too badly for housing estates and everything else.

''I was quite disappointed when I came over the hill into Patong the other day and I looked down and I thought, 'Gee wiz, it's really starting to look like Pattaya City'. And it can get too big. I hope that Phuket doesn't lose that genuine Thainess, and it is already starting to disappear. Eventually, if the Thainess goes, Phuket just becomes another Hawaii, or another Gold Coast.

''To me, people are generally travelling to get a different experience, and that's why I really like it when you go into a resort and there is still a Thai feel about it. You get the wai, you get the smiles, you get all of that. I think if it becomes too commercialised, too Westernised, then Phuket just becomes another Western destination.

''Really Phuket should be trying to remain Thai, because that's why people travel, to experience other cultures and other foods and everything that goes with it. We do a lot of business in Jakarta, which is like Patong was 15 years ago. Kamala has a lovely village atmosphere and I think that has a lot going for it. We get families particularly going up there because it's quieter and it's not as gauche, it's a little bit more local.

''Parts of Karon are also lovely, in that they're not as Western as Patong. Patong is becoming a bit like South Pattaya. I think that's to the detriment of tourism. It's just becoming another big, glitzy type of spot. There will always be a market for it, but as your market matures, they will move away from Patong.

''The interesting thing for Thailand is that they mostly think that Bali is their major competitor. If you were sitting in Phuket, that's obviously what you would think, because it's a beach destination, but the biggest competitors to Thailand as a destination is not in Asia - for the Australian market it's Europe and the US, because the Australian dollar is so strong. The pound and the euro and the US dollar have weakened so much that it's never been as cheap for us to go to those destinations.

''It's almost one for one with the US dollar. We used to get 34-35p to an Aussie dollar, it's now about 60p. Now you're getting nearly a whole euro, too. On the US run, the airlines are having a fare war so the airfares to the States are almost as cheap as they are to go to Bangkok. To go to Europe, because you've now got about four Middle Eastern airlines, there's always some sort of a deal.

''Australians are saying 'Hey I can actually afford it', so they are doing it. And bypassing their holiday in Thailand probably this year, and next year to go to Europe instead. The Thai industry has to start thinking, who is our real competitor? Out of Europe into Thailand, because the euro against the baht has taken a beating, the cost of a holiday in Thailand has gone up 40 percent, but the cost of a holiday in Europe is still the same.''

Phuketwan travelled with a large Phuket road show earlier this month to Australia as a guest of the Phuket Provincial Administrative Organisation. It was the first time a reporter from the Phuket media - English language or Thai language - has accompanied a Phuket road show.

Others on the trip were Paiboon Upatising, chief executive of the PPAO, Sampote Thianthong and Thewi Thianthong of the Department of Local Administration, Somboon Chirayus, president of the Phuket Tourist Association, Bhuritt Maswongssa, vice president of the PTA, Mongkol Boonporn, PTA committee, Bangornrat Shinaprayoon, director of the Tourism Association of Thailand, Phuket, Buayan Suwanmanee, director of Tourism and Sport, Phuket, Sumonrat Na Tauathung, Kata Palm Resort and Spa, Monthakan Saeteng, Kata Palm Resort and Spa, Chalyuth Sophannarat, i-Phuket, Angkana Tanetvisetkul, Peach Group resorts, Frode V Sund, Banthai Hotel and Resort, Oranooch Boonpong, Banthai Hotel and Resort, Scott Galloway, the Village Coconut Island, Laddawan Somniyam, Dewa Phuket, Somjai Tungkoo, Twinpalms Phuket, Ajaree Saengin, Twinpalms Phuket, Piyawan Chirayus, Patong Merlin Hotel, Kobkaew Narkood, Novotel Phuket Resort, Jean Pierre Dousse, Ayara Hilltops, Nachacha Lekviriyakul, Patong Paragon, Parichat Kongson, Patong Paragon, Anchayaporn Thongsom, the Royal Phuket Yacht Club, Suthima Rosami, Bamboo House, Krittapas Silapanont, Bamboo House, Sarayuth Mallam, committee of PTA, Pawandev Sethichaiyen, Blue Ocean Resort, Oraual Paethong, Tropical Group, Javed Pyarejan Shaikh, Horizon Beach, Kittibut Raksanaves, Acco Travel, Chonladar Punjamavat, Acco Travel.
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Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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"They would then have to sign a two-year contract to say that if they leave, they have to pay back the money."

Ahh such a refreshing faith in Thai contract law or the ability of trainees to pay!!

Posted by LivinLOS on September 30, 2010 09:23

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"they tell the customer and they tell the tuk-tuk driver and you get in and you pay your 100 baht"

And where would this magical 100 baht tuk-tuk be ??

Posted by LivinLOS on September 30, 2010 09:40

Editor Comment:

As Jim says, the deals are negotiated directly by resorts with drivers. If you are staying at a resort in southern Patong, say, and you want to go to northern Patong, a tuk-tuk will wait in a queue, then be called to pick you up. The charge will be 150 baht, whether there are six of you, or you are travelling alone. I've been in the 150 baht tuk-tuk, not the 100 baht tuk-tuk.

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I used to go to Phuket a lot. I won't go again unless I am paid to.
Tourism needs to be controlled. The continuing battle to get new tourists is self destructive. You end up destroying the product. QED

Posted by Andrew on September 30, 2010 09:50

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"I hope that Phuket doesn't lose that genuine Thainess"

I hate to be the bearer of sad news, but Phuket has already lost it.

Posted by Whispering Jack on September 30, 2010 12:37

Editor Comment:

Only if you never leave Patong.

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Thanks for the article. Some of the comments by Jim McCoy seem on the money.

Posted by Anonymous on September 30, 2010 12:50

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A good comment about walking down the street. As an able bodied person its quicker for me to walk down the street than try to navigate the minefield of ( occasional) sidewalks/pavements. It seems on the odd occasion that a sidewalk does exist it's no use to disabled people due to the amount of 'shoplets' on it. In most countries they would be prosecuted for blocking pavements as, in the UK for instance form part of the Queen's Highway and must be un-obstructed. It's a disgrace to see wheelchairs being pushed down the road at the whim of speeding drivers. Clear the sidewalks so we can walk in safety.

Posted by Mister Ree on September 30, 2010 13:13

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''Australians are saying 'Hey I can actually afford it', so they are doing it. And bypassing their holiday in Thailand probably this year, and next year to go to Europe instead. The Thai industry has to start thinking, who is our real competitor? Out of Europe into Thailand, because the euro against the baht has taken a beating, the cost of a holiday in Thailand has gone up 40 percent, but the cost of a holiday in Europe is still the same.''

A good message here, but it is not just that major currencies have taken a pounding against the Thai Baht. Give and take, the Thai Baht is artificially too high and is perhaps the greatest deterrent to tourism. The sooner the TAT realise this, the sooner things will pick up.

Posted by Pete on September 30, 2010 13:46

Editor Comment:

The TAT has no control over the baht. Tourism marketing authorities in most places - except for North Korea and Burma and maybe Singapore - have no control over currency fluctuations.

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I didn't say TAT had control over the Baht's value. The fact is that TAT has a government given budget of 5.25 BILLION Baht to promote Thailand. If substantial tourism income is being lost because the country is no longer competitive due to it's strong currency and TAT fails to meet it's targeted growth, then it has to tell the government why. So yes, indirectly it does have a say. Same as large exporters have to say why their market share has been lost by being uncompetitive.

Posted by Pete on September 30, 2010 14:34

Editor Comment:

Tourism in Thailand is what could be called a ''sacrifice sector.'' The TAT's chief warned yesterday that the outlook for tourism is for lower growth. No prizes for guessing why. Yet tourism still has to be marketed, hence the budget. Not huge, given the difficulty of making an overpriced destination seem attractive.

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If six percent of the Thai economy is a 'sacrifice sector' then the TAT is up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

Posted by Pete on September 30, 2010 15:23

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Mr.McCoy obviously want Phuket to be like the West ... well trained service people, well regulated, no hassle, controlled adult entertainment (think about the children!) etc. And consequently he think a lot of tourist in future will prefer Europe and the US to Phuket. I have been all over the west from LA and Las Vegas and the Floridas to the Coast of the Med. Actually I have visited more than 60 countries, and I mostly dislike the things that Mr. McCoy sees as positive.
I enjoy a trip to bad-Pattaya (but not for too long each time !), I love the chaos in Phuket, the clumsy but over-positive hotel employee, the instant surprises, the lack of massive control and parkometers and the tolerance.
I do not think the well regulated Europe and the US is any competitor to crazy Thailand for most of us visiting here. Phuket is unique.
VIVE LA PHUKET !

Posted by jol on October 1, 2010 14:55

Editor Comment:

Actually, he says just the opposite. It's Phuket's ''Thainess'' that he wants retained, without the rip-offs and the blandness.

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He starts off to slate Pattaya, but I was there three weeks ago in Jomtien and it was such a refreshing change. Politeness by drivers, taxis (songtow) were 10 baht to go ANYWHERE within about 7kms. You jump on pay the money, jump off. So simple and easy.

Pattaya is grown up compared to Phuket. They even have buoys in the water making it a safe place to swim along the beach. Granted its no Nai Harn, but its certainly better than a Patong beach.

A lot more "Thainess" than the tourist places of Phuket could ever hope for.

Posted by Tbs on October 1, 2010 22:14

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Great piece. Well done. Tourist industry insider looking from outside and seeing a lot.

Posted by Lena on October 2, 2010 23:22

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My point is that Mr McCoy is saying something and communicating something else.
All these westerners who wants things more organised by putting up detailed rules about traineeship etc are not asking for "Thainess" in a Thai way, but for "Thainess" in a western perception. That's my point ! Got it ?

Posted by jol on October 4, 2010 02:01

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@ Mr. McCoy & jol

So Thailand and those in control of the Thai economy do not want to be westernised, as well grassroots people?

Let me be sceptical about it, as all those in power have been well educated in Europe or America, drive a BMW or Mercedes, enjoy holidays abroad in the most luxurious resorts, have penthouses or mansions with one or several swimming-pools inside, send their children abroad for educations, enjoy great food in the best Thai and international restaurant in Thailand.

In fact they are not interested to use cart with buffaloes as a transportation system, they do not want to live in shanty bungalows under the coconut trees, they do not want to sit down on their kitchen floor for eating local Thai foods with hands, they do not want candle to light their home.

In fact few westerners are looking the old folks to have a change of their previous life in western countries; but that they are a few to think that way.....

My three children want education, to have a home with a swimming-pool and A/C rooms, want a bmw or mercedes car, love to go shopping at Central and buy brand name products, and so on...

Posted by Whistle-Blower on October 4, 2010 09:08

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Whistle-Blower:
No doubt. Most people, thais and falang, seemingly want Thailand to be westernised. Better education, better houses, better cars. Up to them. I don't blame them !
But as with Mr. McCoy, you can not both ask for more of the West and at the same time for more "Thainess". I think McCoy is contradicting himself.
I think Phuket has to chose, McCoys way or the Thai way.
I prefer Thai !
All these ambitious Australians and other greedy and well organised westerners who wants to conform Phuket to be a subsidiary of The West by making things more efficient and profitable, please stay away.

Posted by jol on October 4, 2010 18:45

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"I hope that Phuket doesn't lose that genuine Thainess"

What Planet did you come from? Phuket and Thainess have nothing in common....

Posted by Neale on October 7, 2010 06:27

Editor Comment:

You must be confusing Phuket with Patong

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too bad they feel the need to become rip off artists. I doubt i'll go back again.

Posted by bob on October 14, 2010 14:23

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jim......please roll back into your cave.....you'll be dead soon, so please don't worry about it..........

Posted by m on October 29, 2010 12:13

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I've been coming regularly to Phuket since 1995, actually decided to retire there in 2004. But after two years of rip-offs, threats and abuses, I fled back to EU. I will only return to that corrupt tourist trap if paid a nice salary and a hefty high risk bonus!

Posted by Jerry Horch on May 12, 2011 00:14


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