AS THE island struggles to recover from the global economic downturn, a crowded Arrivals Hall at Phuket Airport remains one of the biggest turn-offs for tourism.
One source in Immigration told Phuketwan
about a group of travellers from Kuala Lumpur who landed in Phuket after a flight lasting 40 minutes, only to find they had to endure a two-hour queue before reaching the Immigration counters.
After that experience, will those Malaysians ever come back to Phuket? We wonder.
Many tourists, looking forward to their holidays, are aghast to see, on reaching the Arrivals Hall, that they are about to join the end of a queue of 40 or 50 people across all eight counter positions.
For most of them, the start to their relaxing holiday in Phuket does not improve in a hurry.
Having endured a long delay at Immigration, large numbers of tourists emerge from the airport terminal to Phuket's public transport chaos.
Competing taxi drivers, both legal and illegal, demand exhorbitant fares. There is no alternative, as there is at most modern airports and there should be at Phuket, of a low-cost public transport system.
Some of these taxis will unexpectedly pull in at a tour office near the airport, where the weary visitor will be offered accommodation and day trips that they don't really need.
With Phuket now engaged in intense competition with resort destinations around the world, little appears to have been done to improve the ''Welcome to Our Island'' experience.
Whenever first flights arrive from China or some other new market, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Airports of Thailand and local officials will gleefully greet the new arrivals with music, dancing girls and floral garlands.
Yet the average visitor is welcomed by an unsmiling Immigration official whose only desire is to keep the queue flowing by processing each new arrival in 45 seconds or less.
The main cause of congestion is the lack of a sensible schedule for arrivals. Phuket has little say in the timing of departures, so two or three packed aircraft will frequently arrive in quick succession.
Lack of assistance from air stewards also causes problems, especially on charter flights.
One expat resident who flew in at the weekend told Phuketwan
of being in the queue behind eight Swedish passengers, none of whom had managed to complete their official arrival form in English.
Our Immigration source told us that Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays presented the greatest likelihood of travellers joining hundreds of other new arrivals in the hall.
Holiday weekends also bring added flights. Today, for example, four aircraft arrived at the airport between 1pm and 2pm.
The key authorities with the power to influence airline timetable scheduling are based in Bangkok, so the crush in the Arrivals Hall is not likely to end anytime soon.
If passengers who had to endure more than an hour in Immigration were greeted as they collected their baggage by friendly smiles and garlands of flowers, it might just persuade some travellers that Phuket deserves a second chance.
While most bystanders on Phuket are horrified at the excessive fares charged by tuk tuks, the budget airline Jetstar tells its passengers that the tuk tuks are cheap and efficient.
Three more US Navy vessels will visit Phuket as the steady stream of sailors seeking a break from duties continues to bolster the island's tourism revenue.
Hoteliers to the north and south of Phuket remain optimistic about prospects for tourism in 2010 and do not hold fears that Friday's court verdict will bring trouble on the island.
Some jet-ski operators are avoiding insurance while others are not keeping up their payments, a meeting at Provincial Hall hears. More than 400,000 baht has been paid in claims.
Changes to the one way system, parking, tourism safety, entertainment closing hours and CCTV cameras are among the changes forecast by Patong's new police chief.