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Phuket shows no love in the long queues at the Immigration counter

Phuket's Welcome Crushed by Airport Crowds

Monday, March 1, 2010
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.
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I fear that the plethora of problems confronting the island are just too much for local authorities to get a handle on. Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry with lots of competition worldwide for the tourist dollar, and therefore demands constant vigilance to ensure that the product on offer is a good one.

Many tourists can ignore third world conditions if they are paying third world prices. Phuket in 2010 is a pricey destination, so travelers who make the effort will indeed be expecting value for their money.

They say that you only get once chance to make a first impression. A two hour queue following a 12 hour or more flight, only to face the Calcutta-like taxi nonsense out on the curb.

Not a very pleasant way to begin a holiday.

Posted by Treelover on March 1, 2010 21:42

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Phuket has been notorious for years both with international arrivals and departures....don't think you would need to be a rocket scientist to work out the problem and fix it...same goes for arrivals at Bangkok on certain times of the day...go to Singapore and see how they manage to just woosh you through formalities...have been in a queue at Bangkok departures for almost two hours one day

Posted by phuketstan on March 1, 2010 23:48

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Singapore... now there's a delight. I was there just two weeks ago. NO queues at all... wonderful immigration officer - very welcoming indeed.

Let's be honest - Iraq is looking a far more attractive destination than Thailand.

Editor: Noddy, Let's be honest - your baseless, continuous criticism of Thailand is wearing a bit thin.

Posted by Noddy on March 2, 2010 17:57


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