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Suwalai Pinpradab, TAT regional director

TAT Backs Cruise Ships and Natural Harmony

Wednesday, January 23, 2008
CRUISE ships are looming large on the horizon, probably as one of the keys to the future of tourism on Phuket.

Suwalai Pinpradab, director of the TAT Southern Office Region 4, can see many more ocean liners heading this way, especially with proper infrastructure on the island.

While the importance of sailing is always noted each December during the King's Cup Regatta and good for PR, it's the big boats that deliver big tourist numbers.

Cruise ships brought about 200,000 people to the island in 2007, up about 20 percent on 2006. That's a figure to rival any of the three leading countries, Australia, Britain or Korea.

Now all that's needed are the right kind of docking arrangements, so passengers don't have to climb down into small boats to be delivered to the shore in Patong.

Cruise passengers are sometimes elderly and usually quite good spenders, just the kind of people the TAT hopes to encourage to visit the island more frequently.

There are plenty of other encouraging signs, Khun Suwalai says.

''2006 was very good for Phuket because we reached our target and we have good signs for 2007. Charter flights are providing services right through the rainy season now, too.

''This period has been good for Korean honeymooners. It has been an auspicious time for them to get married.''

While the TAT sets tourism targets that appear to grow larger every year, Khun Suwalai believes maintaining a balance with the island's natural assets is just as important.

She'd like to see visitor numbers spread more evenly all year long, and for tourists to be encouraged to spend more while they are here.

That's the rationale behind the hunt for so-called ''quality'' tourists.

''We would like to make this region a popular destination but we have to look after our environment, too,'' she says.

She is concerned about the relatively recent explosion of property developments and fears that Krabi and Phang Nga will eventually follow the pace set on Phuket.

Having first worked on the island 15 years ago, she has been able to assess what may have been lost along the way.

In terms of the relationship between the natural and the commercial worlds, she explains it like this: ''I like to concentrate on the island's future well-being by taking care of the natural resources. Really, this is our 'product.'

''We do plenty of marketing and PR and if our product is good, it will sell.

''The danger will be that if tourists come, and they see things that are not nice. . .

''This is why we need to take care of our product.''

As well as promotional road shows, the TAT listens to tourists who come to the office in Phuket City with praise and problems.

Tourists find Phuket people extremely pleasant but don't like excessive fares among the tuk-tuks and some of the tricks that unethical vendors pull in Patong.

Khun Suwalai approves of the arrival of the seaplane shuttle service, Destination Air, the Phuketwan Business of the Year for 2007.

''It's a very good thing for Phuket and it helps to upgrade our tourists,'' she says.

The air shuttle also supports the trend for visitors to stay in more than one destination, too. Once, a family might spend two or three weeks on Phuket.

Today they are likely to spend one week on Phuket then go to Phang Nga or Krabi or a smaller island and spend time there as well.

The same trend is evident throughout the region, with travellers perhaps stopping off at Singapore or in Malaysia on the way to Phuket.

Khun Suwalai believes that there's plenty to see and do in Phuket during the low season and that resorts are sensibly encouraging batik painting, Thai kick boxing, cultural treks, cooking lessons and other indoors activities.

Visits to FantaSea and dining out are among the other green-season activities she lists.

China looms as a big competitor, as well as being a largely-undeveloped market. The relationship is likely to intensify if taxes are applied to long-haul air travel or the price of fuel pushes fares too high.

Then Thailand will be looking for more customers from within the Asian region.

For Khun Suwalai, who has been in the role for four years come February, the important point is to get the balance right.

''If we cannot maintain the balance, there will be problems,'' she says.


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