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This Phuket visitor is not alone, it seems, as record numbers of tourists return

Phuket's Record High Sets Pace for Global Upturn

Saturday, February 6, 2010
A RECORD number of passengers passed through Phuket airport in January, providing the first real evidence that the boom on the holiday island is back.

Phuket, demonstrating its remarkable ability to recover from both natural and man-made disasters, is now a pacesetter for renewal in the global tourism industry.

The total of 749,518 arrivals and departures in January is an increase of a remarkable 33.23 percent on the figure for the same month in 2009.

Not only that, it's well above the 635,060 for January 2008, when Phuket hummed along in the middle of a then-record high season.

At peak times lately, with multiple flights arriving or departing, Phuket airport has seemed to be bursting at the seams, with queues of passengers sometimes extending back 50 metres from the main terminal entrance scanner.

A massive increase in the number of flights appears the prime force driving the resurgence of the island as a holiday destination for international and domestic travellers alike.

January's total of 4524 flights represented a 30.49 percent increase on the same period in the previous year. That figure also even soars well above the 4155 flights recorded in January 2008, before the economic dip set in.

Biggest increase of all came among international passengers, up by 40.60 percent on January 2009.

While Thailand suffered heavy losses to tourist numbers early last year after the December 2008 occupation and blockade at Suvarnabhumi airport, Phuket's numbers dropped, but not to disastrous levels.

Comparisons with the record January of 2008 establish that the 2010 bounce is genuine, not just a statistical aberration based on a low January 2009 figure.

The turnaround is backed by reports from Phuket resort managers, who have been pleasantly surprised at the speed and the strength of Phuket's recovery.

Ashleigh Brayshaw, Director of Marketing Communications at Sheraton Grande Laguna, said: ''It has been a great start to the year. The meetings segment is also very strong.''

She said figures were healthy across all the brands at the large Laguna Phuket destination resort, usually a bellwether for the island's top-end market.

The surge back to prominence, similar in many ways to the island's quick recovery after the 2004 tsunami, seems to be a product of several factors:

..Substantial discounting and special packages at resorts has made the island top value again for tourists.

..Direct flights to Phuket are up, to the point where the airport no longer has space for additional overnight airline parking.

..Charter flights have increased rapidly, with the Tourism Authority of Thailand scoring successes on road trip presentations, especially in China.

..Budget airlines, led by AirAsia creating an island hub and Jetstar out of Australia, have seized on Phuket's geographical advantage and rapidly opened new region-wide routes.

Pundits still say it will be early 2011 before Asia's tourism market fully recovers from the worldwide economic downturn, yet Phuket suddenly appears to be the tourism industry's upturn pathfinder.

Even if people are still paying less to get to Phuket and spending on average about 20 percent less when they get here, all indications are that Phuket is literally off to a flying start to 2010.

In the full year 2009, Phuket international arrivals and departures were down by 4.91 percent, with the domestic side compensating a little by increasing 5.04 percent.

Goods being flown in also reflect the massive 2010 rebound, increasing year on year for January by 52.83 percent, with international cargo flights more than doubling.

Thailand's quirky politics, though, remain unpredictable. Yet it appears travellers are prepared to take the country's increasingly settled appearance since the Asean red-shirt resort invasion of April 2009 at face value, as a sign that it's time to return.

The figures for the period from October 2009 to January 2010 also reflect a pronounced return to normal, with the number of arrivals and departures rising to 2,436,570 in that period, up by 27.48 percent on the previous comparable period.

January's surge in international traffic has been exceptional, but in the October-January period, domestic travel to Phuket has also strongly improved by 35.15 percent.

Resort managers predict that February will be just as potent, with the Chinese New Year-Valentine's Day peak around February 14 likely to bring figures to rival the 2009 Christmas-New Year.

Phuket Bike Week in April, running into the Thai New Year at Songkran, is also expected to close out a high season in which Phuket tourism impressively turned around its fortunes.
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Comments

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A ridiculous massaging of the figures with no 'happy ending'. This time last year the country was in chaos due to the yellowshirts disruptions at Suvarnhabhumi Airport and the following lack of confidence by travellers over the holiday period. To say that figures are up by 33 percent is ridiculous. 2008 would probably be a better comparison although heads in the sad is a philosophy that prevails.

Editor: Er . . . It's very difficult to massage bums on seats. The comparisons have been made with 2008. Even alongside 2008, January 2010 is a record year. As the report makes plain, that doesn't mean record income. Half full or half empty, your first aim, Mr Ree, should be to spot the glass.

Posted by Mister Ree on February 6, 2010 10:55

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I hear some complains about the chinese tours, who stay short and really do not spend a lot, but like to complain... *555

Would like to see the numbers for japan and to a less extent s.korea as they were big spenders. But also there, you can see a change.

There are a lot more budget tourists coming, maybe thanks to the cheap airlines and the cheap hotel offers.

Like Las Vegas in the 70s/80s, Phuket is moving unreturnable mass market. Big spenders are welcome, but not needed any more. With the roll out of dozens of new resorts and thousands of condominium apartments every year, the urbanization of Phuket will go on.

The art of government will be to balance the quality and value expectations of the middle class Europeans, Americans, Japanese and Koreans with Phuket as a tropical beach holiday island and the reality of developing everything into a hot city with crowded rowdy streets, concrete monuments and Disney kind plastic holiday happiness.

Because otherwise there is the danger large parts of Phuket will become just a cheap Chinese 3-day getaway. But the head count will be great.

Posted by Lena on February 6, 2010 15:20


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