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Phuket can determine its own future  but action is necessary now

Phuket Half-Yearly Report: All Pain and No Action

Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Phuketwan Economic Analysis

HALFWAY through 2009, the future six months for Phuket look every bit as bleak as the past six months have already proven to be.

More jobs will go. More businesses will close. Statistical and anecdotal evidence combine to tell a disappointing tale.

At the halfway mark of 2005, six months after the tsunami, Phuket was on the way back. The island had the generous support of the world.

People were coming to the island because they wanted to help. The only way was up.

And it was a good chance to change a few things, to sort out some of the chronic problems.

What happened? Nothing. Phuket just grew greedier.

Instead of striking a balance with nature, development was allowed to continue, almost beyond control.

Not one of the chronic defects was fixed. The only changes were for the worse.

This time, Phuket's disaster is man-made, not natural, so no help is coming.

Today the island faces a bleak short-term future because of a combination of factors outside its control, but also because of its refusal to look in the mirror.

This is not just the opinion of visitors but a view shared by many locals, especially Phuket people.

One Thai who runs a dive business put it like this: ''Phuket nowadays is like a middle-aged woman who doesn't know how to dress to suit her true self.

''She wears too much make-up and she drinks every night. . . . she gets drunk and throws up down by the beach.

''And she doesn't give a damn any more about her natural beauty.''

The economic downturn, Thailand's politics and perhaps some concerns about swine flu have made tourism much more difficult.

But the underlying problem is that Phuket no longer shows a desire to make tourists feel as though they really are in paradise.

Prices are pumped up. Rip-offs are rife. And that will make recovery much harder than it should be.

According to the latest data for May compiled by STR Global, Phuket suffered a 32.1 percent year-on-year decrease in resort room occupancy, falling to 34.5 percent.

How will Phuket win back those customers, and when?

It is going to be a long haul (no wordplay intended.) The tourism world is a much more competitive place now than ever before.

Concerns about swine flu will ease because everyone, everywhere is going to catch it eventually.

But Thai politics . . . well, the optimists reckon it could all be sorted in three or four years. Anything could happen, and probably will.

In the meantime, the image problems that Phuket could solve and should solve, the issues within the control of the island, are not being addressed.

Will those three or four years be all pain, and no gain?

On present indications, that's quite likely.

Lack of progress will be a certainty if nobody heeds what people have been saying more loudly than ever lately about corruption, about the lack of public transport, about making tourist safety a priority, and about the need for a balanced environment.

What's needed for change?

To begin with, Andaman resort managements need to pipe up, to speak out as one, and to assert their powerful viewpoint strongly, both here and in Bangkok.

One encouraging sign: the Summer in Phuket marketing campaign, superficial at first sight, has at least brought together resorts, local authorities, and community interests.

If they can move beyond marketing to lobby loudly with one voice for change, some of that pain might become gain.

The national government has to be made to realise incentives are required now. If the tourists are ever to return in numbers, and along with them the revenue streams, Phuket's chronic problems must be resolved first.

*Bali was the only one of 17 markets measured to increase in RevPAR for the month, rising 10.8 percent to US$88.79. Five markets reported RevPAR decreases of more than 40 percent including Bangkok (-48.4 percent to US$36.36) and Phuket (-47.6 percent to US$25.80). Three markets reported ADR increases: Bali (+18.5 percent to US$127.83); Tokyo (+12.9 percent to US$228.55); and Osaka (+8.7 percent to US$129.72).

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Comments

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It is so easy to see what the problem is with Phuket but nobody cares, from the businesses to the government. Greedy tuk tuks, annoying tailors everywhere, dirty beaches, no parking anywere, and the main reason: Transport cost on the island . My family and i now go to pattaya instead of patong 10 baht for a tuk tuk and 20 baht for a deck chair. That is Thailand.

Phuket is just dreaming that we will ever come back.

Posted by russel jones on June 30, 2009 15:36

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You can ruminate about all the causes of Phuket's failure. It is actually quite simple: THB 900 for a taxi from the airport to the Marriott - 10 minutes. "Hi'ya doin'? Welcome to Phuket!" Refused to use the meter. Tried several, all the same. The attendants at the airport just grinned. We felt like victims. My family's introduction to Phuket was just insulting, and from there it just went on, and on, and on. Left on day two of a scheduled week there, flew back to Bangkok and drove to Hua Hin. Can the Phuket officials who allow this behavior, and the Phuket businesses who grossly overcharge foreigners be such stunning idiots as well? We will simply not return to Phuket, and will report to friends, family, and colleagues that the refreshing drink that might once have been Phuket is no more than a buffalo turd in a glass of warm spit, served up by grinning greedy fools. Phuket is no longer a choice.

Posted by Gordon Bynum, Singapore on June 30, 2009 17:45

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Phuketwan ... Here here. Now you're talking. Ultimately it's up to the Thais. If it were up to the Foreign population Thailand would be one of the wealthiest and most educated countries in Asia. Unfortunately it's not up to Foreigners, it's up to a small minority of Thais that like to keep the population as poor and dumb as possible ... they're easier to control that way. You can't simply run riot on the streets, it's not democratic, but peaceful democratic movements are. With a few choice changes to the law and a little less discrimination, price fixing, indifference, tolerance and overall equity then you have something you can build on.
How bad do things need to get before change is made? Look to the west, it's not all perfect but you certainly could learn a lot, especially when it comes to business.

Posted by Noddy on June 30, 2009 21:31

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Finally someone saying the truth... The destruction of this island, and the killing of its golden goose, by its own locals is the story.

Phuket has the chance to be a pristine Hawaii in the east, instead they act like thugs and rape the islands resources and insult and rip off the very people who have brought what prosperity is here.

The smiles have gone, the scams have got too hard, the prices are now western but the facilities are still third world. Yes many of the visitors who come are not the west's finest representatives, but ultimately who else will put up with so much bad treatment other than those desperate for the lower end of Thai entertainment?

There's more to attracting 'quality tourism' than an ad campaign from the TAT. Look at Malaysia's MM2H, look at ways to attract and retain high net worth people, clean up the act before its too late and the only people who will come are the stag nights and Benidorm set. Or is it too late already ??

Posted by Phuket resident on July 1, 2009 15:22

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I love this world because it's not perfect no stress sabi sabi. I left ours because over-perfect drove me nuts. Common sense was replaced by rules, and too many laws. Thailand's a bit bent but it's easy . . . try it next time. Just don't bring your world here. This is their world. They smile more than we do with a lot less than we have. So don't worry about tourism, it will always do ok because they don't want a lot. Who wants another perfect crap hole full of perfect unhappy, winging people? So the taxi duds you ? your smarter than him, or maybe not.

Posted by dan on July 6, 2009 16:23


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