PHUKET: The strain of a high season that will exceed all passenger records is beginning to show at Phuket International Airport.
Visitors were arriving in such large numbers when Phuketwan went to the airport to pick up friends a few days ago that international arrivals had to queue to get out the door. It was verging on gridlock.
And once the new arrivals managed to shake off the touting taxi drivers inside the airport, they were greeted by many more outside. Beyond the row of competing taxi drivers these days lies an amazing sight - a row of large new billboards, blocking out the view of Phuket's green hills.
Getting into the Phuket airport to catch a flight on time is equally daunting, particularly if you have the misfortune to be caught in a flight schedule peak period.
It seems that the billboard mentality behind Airports of Thailand not only seeks to rip every baht it can from tourism on Phuket, but is also fixedly dedicated to conveying precisely the wrong impression at every possible opportunity.
How can the attitude of AoT be tolerated by a Government that wants to boost ''green'' tourism and is seeking to end the rip-offs and scams on Phuket, Thailand's most important holiday destination?
The fact is, this airport is disturbingly stressed already, with high season barely beginning. And the enlarged facility - where construction will only increase the crush - will not be finished and open until November 2014.
It's truly appalling that AoT has so comprehensively failed to show the vision necessary to cope with Phuket's present and future needs.
Phuket may gain a record eight million passengers coming and going through this obsolete concrete box in calendar year 2011, but those visitors who have a bad experience - and there will be thousands and thousands of them - are unlikely to ever want to come back.
This is not just Phuketwan sounding off. Here's what appeared on the influential site etravelblackboard.com today as part of a review of a flight from Phuket to Bangkok:
''Checking in at Phuket International Airport can be stressful as it seems the airport is bursting at the seams. As soon as one enters the terminal, passengers and their luggage must undergo x ray security checks before being given the green light to proceed to check in desks.
''It seems this system has operated for years, but still causes confusion and commotion kerbside, with long queues greeting flyers upon arrival. Unlike in the US where one undergoes this security check after receiving their boarding pass, one could easily miss their flight if arriving late at the airport.''
As travellers do their research online to decide which destination to choose, most of them mentally tick off the good and bad points about holiday spots.
Phuket's future rides on its reputation. Thanks to lack of forethought, the Phuket airport will be a black cross on many travel lists for the next extremely long three years.