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The Similan islands, just part of Phuket's appeal in good times

Stalwart Aussies, Brits Prop Up Phuket Numbers

Thursday, April 30, 2009
LATEST statistics for guest arrivals on Phuket confirm that the second half of 2008 began badly and set low expectations for the lame high season that followed.

The figures, supplied by resorts, hotels and guesthouses to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, show a year on year decline of 42.83 percent.

That figure would be alarming if the tourist and travel industries had not adapted over the past six months to anticipate low numbers of this kind.

Because the statistics take so long to compile, they are of almost historic interest, outpaced daily by the world economic downturn, local political turmoil and this week by a global flu scare.

There is one thing that can now be said with absolute certainty about the uncertainty . . .

The turbulent tourism environment is likely to take longer to move through than the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, a calamity that at least had a begin and an end, and a point at which a recovery could begin.

Phuket and Thailand are not there yet, and there is no telling when they will be.

The third quarter of 2008 was pierced by the invasion and three-day occupation of Phuket airport in late August, so that interruption to flights would have seriously affected the figures.

Once again, even in a bad quarter, the island's reliance on the Australian market made for overdependence on a single source.

Three times as many Australians came to Phuket in Q3 2008 as the next largest contributing nation, Britain.

And figures for both fell through the floor, Australians plummeting by 41.03 percent to 78,567 visitors, and Britons by 40.24 percent to 26,084.

Declines among some other nations must have caused heartache at plenty of hotels, enough to make us wonder at the accuracy of occupancy levels supplied in Phuketwan resort surveys.

Here are a selection of the worst Q3 2008 declines: Hong Kong, 7940 (down 72.58 percent) Malaysia 12,755 (down 55.51 percent) Singapore 7020 (down 67.89 percent) China 15,365 (down 66.67 percent) Japan 22,129 (down 47.75 percent) Korea 23,726 (down 61.76 percent) Taiwan 5955 (down 59.52 percent) Israel 2940 (down 64.48 percent) Saudi Arabia 4133 (down 64.66 percent).

Among a widespread reduction in tourists across Europe, Austria chalked up a plus, with the figure rising to 3582, up 8.45 percent. Spain too increased against the trend to 8029, up 18.44 percent.

Germany slid to 9490, down 50.77 percent, and Sweden dipped to 9534, down 15.86 percent. Russian arrivals totalled 7414, down 38.26 percent.

French arrivals numbered 9254, down 43.28 percent, with Denmark 6332 (down 40.64) Italy 6652 (down 36.23 percent) Netherlands 4877 (down 46.48 percent) Norway 4309 (down 3.69 percent) Belgium 3677 (down 12.72) Ireland 2983 (down 34.63) and Finland 1957 (down 44.21).

Small plusses showed against Estonia, Ukraine and Poland.

The total for Thais dropped 27.42 percent to 148,549, with expat travel in isolation down by 47.34 percent, to 368,885.

Almost inevitably, the figures are difficult to reconcile against flight arrival and departures.

Latest arrival figures for Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok in March 2009 show consistent declines in numbers, but not to the same extent.

A total of 831,560 visitors from overseas were recorded in March, 16.94 percent down on the same month last year.

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