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The good times may be back if Phuket's economic indicators are right

Phuket Economy: Flight Numbers Looking UP

Wednesday, August 5, 2009
THE worst is over. There, we've said it . . . Latest indications from the most reliable guide to Phuket's rollercoaster economy, the arrivals and departures of passengers on Phuket, are looking good.

Not only are passenger numbers for July down by a mere 3.09 percent on last year, flight numbers are . . . wait for it . . . UP. That's right, UP.

Yes, there's finally a plus among that sea of minuses. The number of flights actually increased by 6.42 percent on the equivalent figure for 2008, to 2901 movements.

Coupled with anecdotal evidence from businesses in general and the tourism industry, and Phuketwan is prepared to say quite loudly, more than once: The Worst Is Over!

All the signs look good. The sun is shining, the waitresses are smiling. But, and it remains a big but, those passengers who are coming are not spending the way they did last year.

Chances are that the discounts that have been applied to bring tourists back to Phuket will extend for months yet, probably right into December and up to the Christmas-New Year peak season.

That time, we would suggest, is likely to be the turning-point. Comparing this peak season with last peak season, both in occupancy and revenue, will provide the first real test of how Phuket has fared through 2009 and will fare in 2010.

But first, those airport figures.

Between January and July 2009, arrival and departure numbers dipped by 12.05 percent for Phuket.

This compares favorably with the figures for Thailand's largest international airport, Suvarnabhumi, where the decline in international tourists alone for June was 22.90 percent.

So despite all those negative issues (and you don't need to be told what they are) Phuket is, in appropriate parlance, travelling quite well.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand, Phuket officials and industry leaders have been working their butts off to rebuild the numbers, getting out globally and selling hard.

New charter flights from China, Korea and Spain are a sign of regeneration and hard work.

Last month's Asean gabfest on Phuket restored Thailand's damaged integrity as a safe destination.

While photographs of politicians often encourage people to head in the opposite direction, the subliminal message was that Phuket is back . . . if indeed it ever went away.

The latest statistics from Phuket airport only go back to October 2008, but Phuketwan's highly paid team of academic researchers has delved deep into yellowing files to confirm that 2005, 2006, and 2007 were almost solid plusses.

The current downturn is one year old this month. Last August was when the first of this current batch of minuses came along. So by our calculations, the downturn is one year old.

The most appropriate time to blow out the candles, however, would be at the very end of August. That marks the anniversary of the invasion ofPhuket airport and, although none of us realised it at the time, gave a clear indication of the political turmoil that lay ahead.

For those of you who lust after details, in July 432,207 passengers came and went through Phuket airport .

To gain a sense of how bad things got at Phuket's worst, the rollercoaster varied between 562,657 in January (down 11.42 percent on last year) 503,247 in February (down 22.87 percent) March 547,131 (down 14.26) April 484,740 (down 4.53) May 361,192 ( down14.48) June 341,923 (down 8.60) and July 432,207 (down a teensy squeensy 3.09 percent.)

Flight numbers have likewise been in decline to roughly the same pattern. Finally, with July, there's a figure with no minus sign in front. And we do so like the look of it.

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