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A week ago when everything was different at ITB Berlin

Phuket Tourism Needs a Regular Reality Check

Friday, March 18, 2011
News Analysis

JUST A WEEK ago, the tourism world was full of certainties. Today? Destination Phuket, as with so many other holiday places, will be waiting anxiously to hear what happens next in Japan and in Libya.

Putting aside the aspects of travel that are beyond the control of all but a handful of leaders, some of them clearly crazy, Phuket emerged after ITB Berlin in reasonable shape.

Perhaps we were just lucky, but most of the industry sources we spoke to were positive about Phuket, with some reservations (reservations of the negative kind, not bookings, unfortunately).

Nina Lvanova, MD of Dream Travel of Bulgaria, said that not long ago Phuket had good resorts at good prices. Her customers would stay for a month.

These days, though, long-haul fares were more expensive and although Phuket was still an appealing destination, people tended to stay for just a couple of weeks.

The charms of Phuket, though, have worked on Ms Lvanova. ''When my husband and I retire, we plan to settle on Phuket,'' she said.

At the other end of the spectrum in terms of Phuket experience, Rob Hotson, Product Specialist (Asia) at Tasman Travel in The Netherlands, said: ''I have been to Thailand 15 times but never to Phuket. Next time I will visit, for sure.''

He said that Tasman Travel had ''just started to put Phuket on our map'' about eight weeks previously.

''The signal is very interesting, after only eight weeks, we are doing well with Phuket,'' he said.

''We have more then 200 agencies across Europe taking tourists to Thailand,'' he added. ''The numbers are looking good.

''And our customers these days prefer Phuket to Bali.''

Why is that? ''Well,'' said Mr Hotson, ''Thirty years ago, Bali was a lovely collection of fishing villages.

''Nowadays, Bali is a lot like Pattaya, with beer bars and McDonald's outlets.''

Oh. Remembering that Mr Hotson has yet to visit Phuket, we wonder how he will embrace the island, with its tuk-tuks and jet-skis. Patong, the village? It went thataway, last seen in Phang Nga or Krabi.

Still, the general message for Phuket was surprisingly positive.

We couldn't help but be distracted, though, by the Japanese stand, looking so forlorn after Friday's tsunami, and with the full impact of the damage to the nuclear power plant reactors yet to come.

Later, we couldn't help wondering how many of the 400,000 displaced Japanese, some now with little food and heat, had once dreamed of a holiday at this time of the year in sunny Phuket.

And how many years it will be before they can realise that dream.

The message from ITB Berlin and onwards is that Phuket and the tourism industry roll on regardless, turning dreams into reality, through the best of times, and the worst of times. Enjoy.
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