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Phuket Resorts Report Cancellations, Uncertainty

Phuket Resorts Report Cancellations, Uncertainty

Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Tuesday TRENDS

RESORTS say the blockade of Phuket International Airport brought a substantial number of cancellations, with some continuing to lose bookings this week and even for next high season.

When Phuketwan called yesterday to take the pulse of the island's key industry, many of the management teams were still busy assessing the damage, for now and in future.

The state of emergency declared today in Bangkok makes that harder to assess, with the Prime Minister now nominally in charge and unions set fora campaign of disruption.

Although responses from the resorts varied, there were plenty of indications across the island that customers gave up on Phuket over the three days that protests closed the airport.

Some resorts reported cancellations as far ahead as the coming high season, which could mean the cost extends well beyond the troubled 250 million-baht-a-day long weekend.

On the positive side, one would-be visitor was not going to be dissuaded. He caught a taxi from Bangkok so his holiday could go ahead on schedule.

If only there were a few thousand more like him.

The protest has changed for some time to come the way potential visitors look at Phuket.

When Bangkok alone had protests, people saw Phuket as a safe and secure place, different to the capital. But not any more.

Maitree Narukatpichai, former president of the Phuket Tourism Association, said that before the airport stoppage, Phuket could be considered something of a haven from the uncertainty of national political dissent in Bangkok.

With the weekend's events, that was no longer the case, he said.

''First-time visitors would not be impressed,'' he said. ''It was not good for Phuket. Honeymooners don't deserve that sort of conflict.''

More worryingly, many international reports of the stoppage used the word ''violence'' when it was actually a relatively well-behaved demonstration, almost an orchestrated one.

A mother's plea to the crowd through a People's Alliance for Democracy microphone at the height of the tension brought a round of applause and the quick return of the child.

That's a Phuket protest.

Yet while the national political scene remains so uncertain, there can be no guarantees that tourists will remain unaffected in the days to come on Phuket, or in Bangkok, on the way to the island.

In terms of tourist numbers, Patong remains the most resilient of the island's resort towns. But everywhere there is financial hurt because the island, an anti-government stronghold, turned on itself.
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The new President of the Phuket Tourism Association, Somboon Chirayus, told Phuketwan on Sunday as the flights resumed that the cost to Phuket was at least 250 million baht a day.

Today Phuketwan reader Alan asked from Ireland: ''Hi . . . I`m watching the protests with great interest . . . I`m due to fly to Phuket on Saturday from Ireland . . . do you expect any recurrence of airport closures or further protests?''

We wonder what resorts are telling potential guests who ask that sort of question.

The island does not need any more strife and it would be an even more serious blow to Phuket if the airport was closed again, rather like a second tsunami.

But truthfully, Alan, there can be no guarantees against further trouble at this stage. If you appreciate the kind of brilliant holiday that Phuket can deliver, it's probably worth catching that flight.

And Phuket needs you.

Here's what the resorts told us in the Phuketwan survey:

Mercure Hotel, Patong: Fifty percent occupancy. Director of Sales, Sorawish Bunrathirun, said Saturday and Sunday brought cancellations. There were also people with bookings who did not turn up. He declined to say how many customers they had lost. He said there was no sign of cancellations of future bookings.

Villa Zolitude, Chalong: Director Maitree Narukatpichai, former president of the Phuket Tourism Association, said the resort had 30 percent occupancy. Saturday, Sunday and Monday, about four in 10 of arrivals were no-shows. He said it would take about a month for the incident at the airport to be forgotten. ''First-time visitors would not be impressed,'' he said. ''It was not good for Phuket. Honeymooners don't deserve that sort of conflict.'' Now Phuket had a record of protests, people would look at the island differently. When Bangkok alone had protests, people saw Phuket as a safe and secure place, different to the capital. But now any more.

Ibis Hotel, Patong: Occupancy currently at 30 percent, said sales leader Nisanath Khantivisit. Some customers cancelled, but she was still trying to assess precisely how many. As a new hotel, the first of its kind in Thailand with others to follow, cancellations were not really what they want right now. She said it was a short-term problem.

Sala Phuket, Mai Khao: Occupancy at the highly regarded new boutique resort is 20 percent. One customer had four rooms booked for a holiday, but cancelled the booking on Sunday. That's a setback when a new resort is trying to establish a reputation for quality and consistency. On the other hand, a customer on Saturday was so keen to get from Bangkok to Phuket that he caught a taxi the whole way. Other guests decided to escape the trouble at the airport by travelling to Krabi a day earlier than planned.

La Flora Resort, Patong: A five-star on the beachfront that opened earlier this year and already has 50 percent occupancy. Pussadee Funngern, Director of Sales and Marketing, said about 10 cancellations came over the weekend but bookings for the high season were so strong that La Flora was already occupied. There had been no long-term cancellations. La Flora may be new but billboard marketing on the island and word-of-mouth have has people checking out of other resorts to try it.

Cape Panwa Hotel, Cape Panwa: A public relations spokesperson said occupancy was at 40 percent. Cancellations had been about 15 percent, but right through, with some high season bookings cancelled already.

Merlin Beach Resort, Patong: A small number of rooms were cancelled on Saturday and Sunday. A spokeswoman said the policy was not to reveal occupancy rates, but she was prepared to say that the hotel was already full for high season.

Kata Beach Resort, Kata: The resort that is noted as the home of the King's Cur Regatta in December said occupancy was running at 60 percent now. A Reservations spokeswoman said Saturday and Sunday triggered cancellations of about four in 10 customers. No long-term effect was anticipated.

Holiday Inn, Patong: Supang Sangkae in Reservations said occupancy was at 50 percent. The resort would have expected to run at 70 percent but the blockade had cut 20 percent off customer numbers, lasting right through this week.

Malisa Villa Suites, Kata: Cancellations amounted to 50 to 60 percent of bookings over the weekend and extending for this week. About 30 percent of forward bookings were also cancelled, said Sucharlermparm Paramacharoenroj, the Managing Director. Most of the guests at this new five-star are Korean honeymooners.

The Chava, Surin: Larry Cunningham, the developer of The Chava, told the Bangkok Post that his recently opened apartment resort, gearing up for its first high season, has already received cancellations into next high season. '''In the end, the biggest loser is Thailand as other surrounding countries like Malaysia and Cambodia have strengthened their tourism industries,'' Mr Cunningham said. Operators of other five-star resorts had told him about their booking cancellations.

Look for
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every day, Monday to Friday, at Phuketwan. It's essential reading. To tell us your news, email bigislandmedia@gmail.com or telephone 081 6513489.

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