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An earnest Governor of Phuket leads discussion at the meeting

Economy: Governor Sparks Fresh Crisis Approach

Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Phuketwan Economic Report

THE GOVERNOR of Phuket set up a brain-storming board late today to help the island boost tourism and tourist safety through troubled times.

Dr Preecha Ruangjan told a large meeting that the Phuket Tourist Association and the Tourist Police will work together to ensure that tourists are protected, and that problems are dealt with efficiently.

The PTA and the Tourist Police will involve other organisations and groups as required to come up with a permanent mechanism that can be put into practice as soon as possible.

The Governor told the gathering of about 50 organisations at Provincial Hall that the chronic problems raised by tourists, diplomats, honorary consuls and in the media had to be overcome.

''How can we make Phuket a medical hub?'' the governor asked. ''How can we protect tourists against crime, and prevent landslips, drownings, road accidents?

''We need answers, and the tourists will want answers as well.''

Among the organisations at today's meeting were representatives from the Tourism and Sports Ministry, local administrations, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the Airports of Thailand, commercial groups and promotional groups, local police, marine police and the guides association.

The regional director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Settapan Puttanee, told the meeting in detail how much the tourist industry has lost in the past 12 months.

He said tourist numbers had dropped by 600,000 visitors in 2008 compared to 2007, and that passenger figures for 2009 were down (flights in January dropped 16.49 percent on January 2008, Phuket Airport figures show).

Hotels without serious marketing had lost 35 percent of guests in 2008, he said. Big hotels reported dramatic losses on Christmas-New Year events and some hotels reported being down by seven million baht on Christmas night alone, compared to the previous year.

Other resorts reported heavy downturns in January compared to January 2008.

When compared with Chiang Mai and Pattaya, Phuket still had reasonable numbers of charter flights coming, he said.

Fourteen airline brands were still operating out of the island, with a total of 213 international flights a week.

Khun Settapan said that some resorts had cut regular staff annual bonuses by 50 percent.

Others had told staff they would not pay the whole bonus until the low season, when the effects of the downturn on 2009 would be more obvious.

Some resorts had been forced to cut staff salaries, he said. A small proportion had paid increases, despite the downturn.

Normally, trainees would come to work at the resorts but many resorts had suspended training programs. Other resorts are not hiring qualified students at all, he said.

Thai Airways had sought help from TAT to bring charter flights from Australia to Phuket, he said. He was trying to organise this new route.

At next month's ITB Berlin travel fair, the world's largest, Phuket would be strongly represented. The Singha Thailand Open Golf tournament, also in March, was another opportunity to promote the island.

Songkran in April would follow, with the TAT now planning how to make it appealing to travellers. Bike Week would come at the same time, he said.

New motorcycles could be launched on the island as part of the event. May 5 would bring the Diving World gathering (as reported in Phuketwan).

Somboon Jirayus, president of the Phuket Tourist Association, said that occupancy rates had dropped at resorts as a result of the economic downturn to 60 or 65 percent. February looked better, with rates perhaps averaging 70 percent.

Khun Somboon said tourists were spending less. It was hoped that more visitors would return but tourists were waiting until the last minute in the hope that better prices would be available.

The PTA was trying to promote visits to Phuket by Chinese and Australians, with a plan to revitalise the image of Phuket with a road show to China in April.

The deputy mayor of Patong, Chairat Sukkamal, said it was easy to plan road shows but getting cohesion between organisations was sometimes difficult.

Often, a handful of bodies had to be consulted in Thailand to make improvements for tourism, he said.

Phuket also needed a symbol that could be promoted as the island's cultural icon, he said.

He believed that many people wanted to come to Phuket but the possibility of another blockade kept some away.

The high cost of tuk-tuks and motorcycle taxis kept some people from coming to Phuket, he said.

''They are the highest price for this kind of transport in the world,'' he said. ''Prices for fares are very high, especially when compared to Bagnkok.''

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Comments

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Well......... for a start please get rid of the time share touts. Phuket is the only place my family and I have been to where we have suffered constant hassles day after day by scratch and win time share people who use high pressure to get you to waste almost an entire day of your holiday at some resort where they try to get you to sign up the same day using real high pressure methods. NOBODY on holiday wants to run the gauntlet of these nuisances every day they are walking along the main road - CLEAR THEM OUT!

Posted by Jason Myles on February 11, 2009 21:17

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Perhaps the number one irritation for tourists with any experience of Thailand is the tuk tuk drivers in Phuket. The governor could bring down prices overnight simply be introducing licenses for metered taxis. They're more comfortable, more trustworthy and fares are more transparent.

I appreciate that confrontation is not the Thai way, but some with a political spine needs to stand up to the tuk tuk monopoly. It's unfettered price gouging and tourists know it.

Posted by Eddie on February 13, 2009 10:38

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I agree with the previous comment, Phuket needs to really clean up its act if it wants to have tourists. The Tuk-Tuk mafia are a disgrace. Ripping off the tourist at every chance. How much better to have licenced and metered properly regulated air conditioned transport like Singapore. Get those jet ski thugs off the beach and burn their jetskis. Next chuck out the time share touts and educate the people that tourists are their bread and butter and their only real source of income. PLEASE do not try to rip them off as they will never come back, and Phuket dies.

Posted by Cliff Hall on February 13, 2009 19:46

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Does the Governor read these comments?
Maybe someone should direct the Governors attention to the very open website so he may become aware of the concerns of the tourists. My wife and I had a 10 day holiday there in January. It was our first visit to Phuket after most holidays we took in either Australia or Penang. We were shocked at the shopping touts in Phuket Town all trying to take us to gold stores for an obvious commission. Then back in Patong those awful tuk tuk men all trying to get us to "tour island as nothing to see here" at inflated prices. We stayed at the Merlin Beach Resort and the variaton in the tuk tuk fares asked were amazing. Ranging from 300 baht to 550 baht for a 12 minute trip in a tiny death trap with brakes that grabbed on each bend!
We had all these people asking if we could speak English and getting us to scratch a card. This was constant as they jumped out of shop doorways as we passed or else roared up to us on litlle motorbikes. We felt very vulnerable with two young children as these card scratch people are VERY forceful and constantly at you all along Beach Road and Bangla Road. WE will never go back to Phuket - It was horrible.

Posted by David on February 13, 2009 21:36

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The above comments are exactly right, and have identified the main problems in a nutshell. Why don't you, Alan Morison devote more pressure to having these issues addressed, instead of focusing/commenting on how long it will be before Phuket tanks. You as a responsible editor/commentator, need to look more at lobbying/advocating for the solution, not just reporting the "perceived" problem. Your editorial stance seems to alternate between swanning off to new puffy opening "do"s, (particularly in Khao Lak) and shortly thereafter running about in small circles flapping your wings at the slightest whiff of anything possibly negative in the short term for Phuket(e.g jellyfish). Get a less than short term balanced grip, man - you are an editor, ffs! Stand up for Phuket. Get to the main characters and grill them about the touts, taxis, tuk tuks and ancillary rubbish. I for one know you can and are capable, but you seem to be stuck in the background. Get on to it. Stuart
Editor: At Phuketwan we report what we seen and hear, and can confirm as fact. That's where our role as journalists ends. I'll leave running Thailand to the Thais, and the people they elect or make responsible to do the job.

Posted by stuart on February 13, 2009 21:58

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Actually in thailand, nothing really has improved and don't expect anything to either.As much as anyone including the governor of phuket would like to change things, it is very hard. Look at pattaya now, it is dying and has become a complete cesspit. On phuket mass overdevelopment and more ugly billboards. samui is going from bad to worse and I would never ever go there again. Such a shame, really. Next trip, off to malay islands, much nicer and they give you ninety days straight up.

Posted by neil on February 15, 2009 20:09

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Let's hope the Governor can implement legislation to control those Tuk-Tuk fellows before it's too late.
POSITIVE action is required if the tourist trade is to be protected.
Jet-skis need moving from the Patong Beach area
Those many, many, "scratch and win" touts need rounding up and deporting from whence they came.
Come on Thailand - the tourist puts food on your tables - stop head butting them!

Posted by Jessie on February 17, 2009 20:52


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