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Thomas Cook, seeking ways to fill seats for a Phuket holiday flight

Phuket's Lost Season: Europe Stays Home

Friday, December 10, 2010
News Analysis

PHUKET'S high season is being hit by soothsayers' predictions of a second tsunami sometime this month. But even more damage is being caused by the Thai baht, a senior Phuket tourism official said today.

Reports that astrologers are saying that another big wave will strike Phuket and the Andaman coast this high season have been picked up by international news media, spreading concern among superstitious Asians.

But the drop in the appeal of Phuket's high season actually has a lot more to do with currency than currents.

Having much greater impact, says the President of the Southern Chapter of the Thai Hotels Association, Suchart Hirankanokkul, is the rise of the Thai baht in comparison with the euro and other currencies.

''Bookings are slow this year. The number of bookings from Europe have dropped by 50 percent,'' said Khun Suchart, who is also the owner of Phuket Graceland Resort and Spa, on the beachfront in Patong.

He said the Western Europeans were being replaced to a certain extent by Russians, but the Russians were mostly package tourists.

They did not spend as much as the more independent British, Scandinavians and Germans, he said.

Khun Suchart said the big concern now was that Phuket resorts would have to discount further to win tourists for Phuket in the New Year.

The likelihood is that packages will have to be constructed between tour agents and three-star resorts instead of five-star resorts, or with five-star resorts content to settle for three-star prices.

Thursday's announcement that the basic wage on Phuket will rise to a national-record of 221 baht a day - an increase of a massive 17 baht - also indicates that inflation on Phuket is moving in the wrong direction at the wrong time.

Khun Suchart said the problem is typified by charter flight operators who are reluctant to fly direct to Phuket unless their flights are fully booked, or close to capacity.

He said there was a 340-seat Thomas Cook flight due on Phuket on January 2 that currently had 80 seats empty, and the long-established British brand was looking at ways to fill those seats.

Predictions of a second tsunami are unlikely to put off travellers from Europe or Australia but some Thais are believed to have changed their travel plans for Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi on the strength of what the fortune-tellers are predicting.

Paiboon Upatising, Chief Executive of the Phuket Provincial Administrative Organisation, was quoted today as saying: "I think these people should take responsibility for their fortune-telling, because this is making an impact on tourism in our southern provinces.

''We strongly believe our security and warning system will save tourists and local residents from any tsunami that should actually occur.''

While the tsunami warning towers and radio and television reports are likely to warn of any approaching tsunami during daylight hours, guests have every right to remain concerned about who will wake them if a tsunami arrives when everyone is asleep, especially between 2am and 6am.

Tsunami drills are scheduled for Phuket on December 14 at Kamala and December 24 at Saphan Hin in Phuket City, and two new tsunami alert buoys are being deployed off Phuket and the Andaman coast.

Confusion remains about the total number of visitors to Phuket. Some publications take the Phuket International Airport figure of more than six million arrivals and departures for 2010 and mistakenly quote that as the total tourist arrivals.

In fact, the actual number of tourists visiting Phuket this year will be perhaps three million at best. Air and sea arrival figures show that 1,076,120 overseas visitors came to Phuket in the first nine months of 2010 from the leading 15 nations.

The leading countries were, in order: Australia, China Korea, Russia and Singapore.

Khun Paiboon is today quoted as saying, with accuracy: "2010 has been a good year for Phuket. The number of direct and charter flights has doubled.''

Indeed, the number of overseas tourists visiting Phuket was up by 56 percent between January and the end of September. Holding that steep increasing trajectory in 2011 now looks more difficult.

Other factors beyond the control of Thai tourism officials are kicking in. The strengthening baht can be brought under control, if Thailand's government is concerned about the future of tourism.

As for the outlook for 2011 . . . only the fortune-tellers may be game enough to offer a guess. And only the superstitious would believe the answer.

A total of 5400 people died in Thailand in the tsunami of December 26, 2004. About half were tourists and half were residents. While a second tsunami remains a possibility, experts say it's extremely unlikely.
Phuket the Most Expensive Place to Live, Work
Costs Shock Figures for the basic wage soar by 17 baht on Phuket to a figure that exceeds Bangkok by six baht as the island proves to be the most expensive place in Thailand to live and work.
Phuket the Most Expensive Place to Live, Work

Phuket Air Traffic Smashes Record
Soaring High Phuket air traffic has surged through the six million passenger trip ceiling for the first time, with more to come. And a new weekly flight from the Middle East begins on Tuesday.
Phuket Air Traffic Smashes Record

Phuket Night Tsunami Drill, Tests for Towers
Latest Phuket's maligned tsunami tower warning system is to be tested twice a month and authorities plan a night evacuation drill and a serious of high season practice evacuations.
Phuket Night Tsunami Drill, Tests for Towers

China, Indonesia, Russia Driving Phuket Tourism
WanLeaks Special The top 15 nations have delivered more than a million visitors to Phuket by air and sea, with neighbors Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia starring with China and Russia.
China, Indonesia, Russia Driving Phuket Tourism

Phuket's Coming High Season: More Rich, Please
Latest Jacob Marley may be in the minds of Scrooges this Christmas but down Kata way, there is only one Marley that counts and his name is Bob. We asked him what's hot this high season.
Phuket's Coming High Season: More Rich, Please


Comments have been disabled for this article.


Lately all I've been hearing is the record number of arrivals expected to swarm our airport this coming high suddenly they are not coming....It's not just the strong baht and a predicted tsunami.....Times are tough right now in Europe and America and people just don't have the loose cash any more.

Posted by sky on December 10, 2010 16:00

Editor Comment:

Times are less tough in Asia, which is why more people are coming, but not spending as much.


''Bookings are slow this year. The number of bookings from Europe have dropped by 50 percent,'' said Khun Suchart, who is also the owner of Phuket Graceland Resort and Spa, on the beachfront in Patong.
So the crackdown on illegal foreign workers would releive some losts that will be coming by lack of enough customers for all legitimate businesses in Phuket, Phang-Nga and Krabi.

Posted by Whistle-Blower on December 10, 2010 16:02

Editor Comment:

Are you serious? If you suggested that there was some conspiracy between the tourism industry and immigration authorities in any European country, or the US or Australia, you would be laughed at. If it happens in Thailand, then Thailand has the most sophisticated and cohesive bureaucracy in the world.


To get a better statistic, it would be better to add together the arrivals at Phuket airport and Krabi airport; then, we would have the more accurate arrivals for Phuket, Phang-Nga and Krabi.
Many tourists land in Phuket but in fact are going to Khao Lak or Krabi.

Posted by Whistle-Blower on December 10, 2010 16:53


Times are tough for people with no business plan, i see many businesses doing very well. if you do business you need to take the rough with the smooth. not every year will be a bumper year.

Posted by Lord Jim on December 10, 2010 17:18


I'm with sky on this one

We've been told all year how the arrivals and bookings have skyrocketed and anyone daring to disagree with this "data" or suggesting manipulation has been shot down in no uncertain terms.

Suddenly it's acknowledged that bookings are down 50%.

I seriously question the accuracy of the previous "data" published by THA, TAT and PIA.

As to times not being so tough in Asia, I agree. However if you earn your income in/from Europe, North America or Australia/NZ, that is irrelevant. I'm sure that's what sky meant.

Posted by Chris on December 10, 2010 18:01

Editor Comment:

There is no question about the accuracy of the data, simply the reluctance of readers to accept the paradox that numbers can go up without incomes rising with the increase.

Airport numbers are a reliable statistic - the drop of 50 percent in European bookings is an estimate for the coming peak season. There is a big difference.

Quite a few readers need a lesson in statistical analysis. The businesses that succeed on Phuket are the ones that do their homework and devote time and energy to tracking market sources and demographic projections.

To put it bluntly, the data doesn't lie, but some people do kid themselves.


I don't think we need lessons in statistical analysis. I agree with most of these posts and many of us have been saying that tourist arrivals are down. You now say at best Phuket will have 3 million arrivals when you were quoting 6 million not so long ago. As the saying goes ''There are two kinds of statistics: the kind you look up and the kind you make up''.

Posted by Pete on December 10, 2010 18:57

Editor Comment:

Pete, Your imagination is running wild. Please produce one example on Phuketwan where we said arrivals were six million. It's as I said: You prefer to live in an imaginary world where good times are just the way you dream them. Your ability to understand figures fell over somewhere . . . then got sideswiped by a passing seung taow.

And of course, the majority on any issue is always right. Most people can't be wrong, can they?

Pete, time you started using your brain. No point otherwise.


Also keep in mind arrivals is just a number, Asians spend a few days here while Europeans 2-4 weeks on average.

Would be more interesting to see days spent in Phuket rather than number of arrivals, compared to last year.

Posted by Nick on December 10, 2010 19:48

Editor Comment:

Tourism these days almost makes year-on-year comparisons obsolete. The people who believe that there are certainties about tourism and about sources of supply are the ones who are now scratching their heads and wondering where their customers went. Those who speak of being dependent on one market are struggling. Adapt, be prepared to meet crisis after crisis, or become a dinosaur. It's a jungle out there.


Phuketwan October 9th.

The President of Airports of Thailand, Serirat Prasutanond, told a seminar on Phuket in August that the planned expansion was to carry the airport to a capacity to handle 12.5 million passengers before March 2014.
But he also added that demolition of the existing staff quarters at the southern edge of the airport could increase the planning and capacity to 15 million. Based on the latest projections, that extra work becomes an absolute necessity.

Sorry, I was wrong. I should have said 7.5 million, not 6 million arrivals. Like statistics, projections can be highly inaccurate. My post did not mention a time scale, I simply said Phuket WILL have, but your article above does, even though someone else said it and you carried it.

Posted by pete on December 10, 2010 20:41

Editor Comment:

Pete, you're brave - you just proved you don't understand what you read.

And then, you shoot the messenger! Seek advice from a friend, quick.

Passengers equals people coming and going, arrivals and departures. In other words, when the Phuket airport is able to handle 12.5 million passengers, about half of those will be arrivals. The other half will be departures . . .


ED: Please bear in mind what Oscar Wilde once said: "The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read."
I think you've just proved it!

Posted by Pete on December 10, 2010 21:01

Editor Comment:

What Oscar Wilde said and what he did are two different things. He was a great apologist. He didn't even like golf.


Well, the one thing we can always rely on is PhuketWan teaching it's readers a lesson, and then some.

As to the 50% being an estimate, it seems Khun Suchart disagrees. He clearly says "have dropped", not "are expected to drop". Unless of course his words were misreported.

Furthermore the story headline says "Europeans not Flying"

How this equals less income AND excludes less arrivals is beyond me.

My simple point is and was - actual arrivals do not seem to match the positive spin of the official numbers.

What am I missing here ?

Posted by Chris on December 10, 2010 21:03

Editor Comment:

You are clearly missing Pete.


To the Editor:

Naah, I don't miss Pete. I don't swing that way.

As much as I sometimes disagree with you or even think you are patronizing your readers, I do have to admit I respect you for the fact that you publish even those comments highly critical of you or even proving you wrong (not that you'd admit it though).

You sure are not afraid of controversy.

I hate to say I almost like it.

That said, let's look at the numbers again in May '11

Posted by Chris on December 10, 2010 21:37


Not afraid of Controversy?? That's laughable. If only you knew what he doesn't post.

PS, Read things more carefully. You guys are embarrassing yourselves.

Posted by kevin on December 12, 2010 12:57

Editor Comment:

We don't carry posts from anarchists, egoists, nihilists, tribalists, fundamentalists, racists, or bigots. Expats without much of an idea about anything also don't get a look-in.


Lets be honest.
Tourist scams are the reason for the decline.
Airport scams, transport scams, jet ski scams, double pricing, palace closed scam..... all day long...scam scam scam. Too many to list. People are talking. It's all over the internet.
Travelers cant even be sure to get thru Thailands airport without being hassled...

Posted by Anonymous on December 12, 2010 13:52

Editor Comment:

People who start a comment with 'Let's be honest' invariably are offering an opinion they know is total nonsense. Your opinion is total nonsense, clubsiam.



That's a lot of insults for one post editor.

You certainly woke up on the wrong side of the bed today.

I call a spade a spade editor. If that makes me appear as a bigot or otherwise, Thats only a reflection of hard reality. I wouldn't make my statements unless they had some relevance to the issues at hand. A little criticism isn't necessarily a bad thing.

But that doesn't change the fact that you filter your posts for anything that could cast your webpage in a negative light in the eyes of phukets leaders.

If real reporting agencies had your fear to offend. Then we wouldn't see legendary reports such as "The Runaway General" by Michael Hastings. Making a real difference in our world

Good no fear reporting like that can play perhaps the most important roll in ensuring government transparency. And if you weren't afraid of it. Perhaps you could do your part in bettering this island.

As long as people like you editor are content to be puppets. We'll, I guess you'll always have plenty of stories of false reports, and lovely stories of politicians pretending to care and make change.

Maybe if your really careful what you report on, you'll even get a few "secret" emails that you shouldn't have, trying to downplay phukets Tourisim issues too....

Posted by Kevin on December 12, 2010 14:12

Editor Comment:

We're not interested in doing deals, Kevin. If you think you fit one or more of the categories we listed, then that's your affair.

If we set out to insult you, you'd know about it. And if you have the skills to report Phuket in a more constructive fashion, good luck with your site.


I don't think i could report better then you. You've got your ear too close to the ground.

I'd just like to see what was once my favorite local news page take a more realist approach and stop downplaying phukets biggest problem. Corruption...

If you want to insult each and every one of your regular readers, that's your decision, Perhaps the quality of your reporting can make up for your attitude... Who knows...


You want to cast phuket in a happy go lucky shadow of denial. Perhaps theres something good in that..

Ignorance is bliss..

I won't be making any more comments.....

And 7 years later, You'll still be reporting on jetski scams and drownings.... Knowing deep inside that you singal handedly stopped the communications that could have solved these issues once and for all.....

Posted by kevin on December 12, 2010 15:47

Editor Comment:

We don't have any interest in insulting anybody, only in explaining how the island functions to those who are interested. Everyone knows corruption is there, and that it's widespread. This is not news. It won't be beaten by westerners who think all they have to do is point their fingers and it will vanish in a puff of smoke. The really insulting aspect is that there are very few trained journalists around these days, but vast numbers of experts who spout their knowledge at every opportunity. If you have something constructive to add, we're happy to listen. But please make sure that you're not just repeating the same old Phuket mythology. That's a waste of everyone's time.


I DO have something constructive to add: EDITOR, do not engage in reader's comments but instead, let readers engage each other. Your patronizing is time wasting too even if your can dismiss my post as "same old phuket mythology"

Posted by cekipa on December 18, 2010 13:03

Editor Comment:

The evidence is that many expats who choose to comment deny the possibility of change on Phuket and prefer to wallow in self-pity. Some also show a preference for unfair generalisations, and sweeping claims that have no basis in fact. Alternative sites allow paranoia and conceit to flourish: we don't. Diverse opinions are welcome here: malcontents are not.


TAT are reporting elsewhere that tourist arrivals in Thailand are 15.7 million this year. It's continually reported that more and more people are arriving, yet hotel bookings are down.
Maybe there are just too many hotels !

I think Phuket is in grave danger of pricing itself out of the market. As reported by Phuketwan, the majority of tourists are coming from countries within an eight hour flight, i.e. not western europe or the Americas. In the past, tourists would offset the high flight price against cheap accommodation and entertainment. Phuket just isn't particularly cheap anymore.

Posted by Mr Man on December 18, 2010 14:56

Editor Comment:

Hotel bookings from Europe are down on Phuket for the high season, so we were told. This is a paradox because tourist arrivals for Phuket are up for the year, to record levels.

Any number of factors come into the equation. We'll save our assessment for an article.


I am not of the opinion that the words 'patronizing' and 'insulting' are fair comment. I would prefer to call your banter fallacious arguing - even you simply cannot be right all of the time. You whinge on about the lack of trained journalists and the vast numbers of experts who spout their knowledge at every opportunity being insulting (to you presumably) and moan about the people that present you with the same old mythology??!! I was not aware that any form of certification was required to become a journalist - one just had to have a flair for writing, some knowledge regarding the factual, present reports in an unbiased manner and then progress through experience; or, you could say as Oscar Wilde did:(sorry to bring him in again) "Bad manners make a journalist".

Many posts are from presumably intelligent readers and some are asking for simple intelligent answers, not aggressive ones, but you are more prone to treat them as interfering idiots. That is the wrong way of doing things. One poster even wants you kept out of it altogether. That will never do. Unbiased is the operative word here, so would it be possible for you to stick to it?

Posted by Pete on December 18, 2010 17:03

Editor Comment:

I think you misunderstand what this is all about, Pete. There are other sites where commenters can say whatever they like, with no voice to cry out: ''Hang on, that's totally false information you are trying to pass off as fact.''
For too long that's been the approach in Thailand. I'd say standard approach, but that implies there is a standard, when clearly there isn't. It's actually chronic, rampant bias - in favor of ignorance.
As journalists, we commit to a code of ethics and part of that code is to resist misstatements of fact. As far as I'm concerned, that principle applies as much to what readers have to add as it does to the journalism.
One large difference between most expat chat sites and this one is that we've usually had recent - and I emphasise recent - experience in researching and updating whatever the topic might be. So for commenters to repeat out-of-date and often incorrect information is not in anyone's best interests.
Misstatements of fact are not to be confused with opinions. But opinions also need to be based on true information, or they're pointless.
We don't pretend to be right all of the time, and we stand to be corrected - by people who can update what we report on the basis of recent research and better information.
We're not biased, and to suggest we are is plain silly on your part, although a bit short of the commenter who recently accused us of being corrupt. (You should read the comments we can't publish.)
When you and the other anonymous commenters use real names and state real opinions, we can have a real debate. Until then, we'll stick with our standards, thanks, not yours.
If you must quote quotes, I prefer one from another writer, Auberon Waugh: ''Generally speaking, the best people nowadays go into journalism, the second best into business, the rubbish into politics and the shits into law.'' I do hope you are not a lawyer, although you seem to be adept at attempting to argue a case without evidence.
Incidentally, journalists have done more for humankind throughout history than any other profession, with the possible exception of scientists. And that, Pete, is a fact.


Oh, and you forgot about surgeons, doctors, philanthropists and inventors. Oscar Wilde was a journalist/editor too, remember, albeit on a woman's magazine, but came to hate them when sued about his homosexuality.

PS. I'm not exactly anonymous as I use my real name.

Posted by Pete on December 18, 2010 18:19

Editor Comment:

I didn't forget anyone.
And you're as anonymous as Oscar would be without the Wilde.


Fallacious............just as I said before.

Posted by Pete on December 18, 2010 19:03

Editor Comment:

Ignorance and anonymity, Pete. Best to avoid both.

gravatar (December 2nd)

Posted by Jamie on December 19, 2010 23:14

Editor Comment:

That's right - passenger numbers for Phuket airport are at record levels, and according to a tourism industry expert, bookings from Europe are at lower levels for this festive season.

Yet another Phuket paradox.


haha, I stopped when I saw: "Quite a few readers need a lesson in statistical analysis." - I think I saw an article here noting Phuket had passed the 5 or 6 million mark for inbound passengers. But then the snow storm hit. so that would be a peak, then a valley. anyone counting on $ from tourism is a wishful thinker to begin with. when I was there it seemed pretty dead except maybe Patong.

Posted by JingJing on December 21, 2010 19:32

Editor Comment:

You didn't see an article here noting six million inbound passengers. The airport may reach 6.5 million to seven million arrivals AND departures this year . . . so inbound would be three million to 3.5 million, with less than half that number from overseas.


Seems the government's shooting of protesters last spring might have had an effect. Tour companies probably decided against Thailand fearing more violence.

Posted by Jim E on December 25, 2010 04:27

Editor Comment:

Tour groups decided against Thailand, fearing lack of insurance because of the exaggerated travel alerts. The violence was never directed at tourists and most people realised that the country remained perfectly safe outside Bangkok.


It's easy to blame the economy, red shirts, yellow shirts for the woes of Phuket hotels. Perhaps some of these hotels need to look closer to home to identify why their occupancy rates are so low.

I run a small 10-room hotel in Phuket. I have not discounted my room-rates. I am fully booked up until 4th January 2011 - not a single room available and the vast majority of customers have fully prepaid for their room.

So why can I do this and others cannot? The standard of my customer service, English language comprehension, willingness to listen and to resolve customer complaints etc springs to mind.

The tourists are there, and they want decent hotel accommodation. Provide a service that meets the demand and you are onto a winner.


Posted by Simon Luttrell on December 25, 2010 15:18


Part of the reason for people not coming is the airlines doubling their prices when people have the holiday time off work. 1200 pounds for indirect flights with long waits between flights in busy airports. No wonder new year's will be quiet! Thailand will suffer from this. In the end, that greed is costing more people. Those that do go have been relieved of most of the money they would have spent. Add to that the strong baht. No good for tourism.

Posted by Mike-Hunt on December 27, 2010 13:30


If bookings are down 50% why are rates still double, are these people idiots?

I have to go to Phuket as I booked a flight out of there, when I got here I went straight to bangkok and now I am regretting booking my flight to Phuket 2 days before my outgoing flight.

My family runs a hotel and if we doubled our rates in high season no-one would stay there, how can you justify it when the prices in Bangkok and Chiang Mai are pretty stable year round.

The islands in Thailand, I guess like any other island are overpriced, filthy and it looks like none of the 17% taxes is going to reduce corruption or towards infrastructure.

It is even worse in that hell hole Bali, you can't walk 10 feet without some idiot yelling traspot or mushrooms, weed, young lady.

I used to hate Bangkok, but after finding nicer hotels in Silom and Pratunam I feel I am having more fun, eating better and getting better deals than anywhere else in the country.

Not looking forward to Phuket at all.

Posted by bangkok on January 21, 2011 09:24

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