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Will Phuket's airport upgrade come fast enough for super growth?

Passenger Eight Million Prepares for Record

Friday, December 9, 2011
News Analysis

PHUKET: Passenger numbers through Phuket International Airport total 7.65 million in the year so far to December 1- which means any day now, the eight millionth traveller for 2011 will be arriving.

Thailand's floods, which killed more than 660 and caused unprecedented economic damage of 1.3 trillion baht, did nothing to halt Phuket's progress to record tourism figures.

The passenger total for the year so far is 21.33 percent up on the previous year, and international arrivals and departures have surged by a remarkable 32.65 percent.

For November, the increase was a mere 30.82 percent . . . it must have been flood-affected.

Continued acceleration at that impressive pace is likely to severely stress the ageing Phuket airport, which was built to cope with a maximum of 6.5 million arrivals and departures.

What it means is that the Phuket brand doesn't need any marketing expert help. Phuket may mean many things to many people, but they are, in plenty of cases, catching a plane to come check it out.

The pressure on an overworked airport where queues frequently have to be negotiated to get in and get out is mirrored in the struggle for infrastructure and a public transport system to cope with the 21st century.

As the airport is being expanded between now and November 2014 to cope with 12.5 million arrivals and departures and the figure for 2011 is already clearly going to top eight million, tourism industry chiefs should be asking Airports of Thailand what they plan to do if passenger numbers continue to rise at this rate.

More international passengers than domestic travellers are using the Phuket airport, making Phuket probably unrivalled as the most cosmopolitan of tourism destinations in Thailand, and possibly the whole of South East Asia.

The social issues springing from this heady mix of internationals and Phuket locals, as well as thousands of Thais from other parts of the country, has yet to be fully absorbed by local and national administrators.

For Phuket to continue to prosper from its reputation as a great destination, much more planning has to be undertaken to keep it that way. And it now needs to be done 30.82 percent faster.

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