Never officially reported in exact numbers, the indirect arrivals through Bangkok constitute a significant share of foreign tourist inflow to Phuket. Yet the number of seats is limited which results in higher flight prices which in turn slows down tourism recovery and makes Phuket less attractive to foreign and domestic travelers in comparison with other popular resort destinations in Southeast Asia which are now are also open for visitors and ready to compete for them
“The number of domestic flights to Phuket in November 2022 stood at only 77% of the November 2019 level. Meanwhile the demand from international visitors traveling via Suvarnabhumi Airport to Phuket Airport has rapidly returned. As a result, the price of travel is currently unusually high which leads to us being in an unfavourable position in terms of competition with foreign countries,” Governor Narong said at the meeting.
The meeting was held on an undisclosed date just before Christmas. Joining Governor Narong were Bhumikitti Ruktaengam, Advisory Chairman of Phuket Tourist Association (PTA); Thaneth Tantipiriyakij, new President of the PTA and the Chairperson of the Phuket Tourism Council (PTC); Thanusak Puengdech, President of the Phuket Chamber of Commerce (PCC); Charin Thamrongkiatkul, President of the Phuket chapter of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI); Suksit Suvunditkul, President of the Southern Chapter of the Thai Hotels Association (THA).
The meeting agreed that local authorities and the private sector will jointly send a written request to the national government requesting more flights added to the schedule to meet the growing demand and make the prices more accessible.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn were named as addressees, reports Khao Phuket, the Thai-language sister newspaper to The Phuket News.
The price issue hurts both international and domestic travelers, the meeting acknowledged. Actions are needed to prevent negative effects on the tourism industry in the long run, “especially during Chinese New Year and the upcoming Songkran festivals”.
“From discussions, it was found that the problem [of high air travel fares] had been caused by supply and demand imbalance, that is, the demand keeps increasing while supply is still low,” Governor Narong explained.
Solving the problem is beyond the province’s capabilities as “it is the business of airlines and it lies within the national guideline framework”, it was said.
“The factual situation report has been sent to the senior management so they can acknowledge the problem we are facing and find a solution. [This is crucial] especially during the festive season which is a period of long holidays when many domestic tourists would love to travel to Phuket. Right now the level of competition is high in the tourism business with Phuket having to compete with foreign destinations such as Vietnam, Singapore, Bali, etc.,” Governor Narong explained.
Speaking at the meeting, Mr Thanusak of the PCC said that the problem is not unique or limited to Phuket yet the island may be suffering worse than other less demanded provinces.
“From examining the air fares across the country we learned that they have increased by 30-60% in all areas that are considered tourist attractions. But Phuket suffers the most as we also face insufficiency of available flight seats,” Mr Thanusak said.
“The main problem with ticket prices is that they have risen above the level that we have ever encountered. During the pre-pandemic peak of tourism in 2019, a round trip from Bangkok to Phuket used to cost B8,000-9,000 on average, while now we can see over B10,000. Some flights are available at B 7,000-8,000 but the quantity of seats is insufficient,” said the President of the Phuket Chamber of Commerce.
Mr Thanusak suggested a “temporary increase” of the number of THAI Airways flights from Bangkok to Phuket as “the most urgent solution”. The choice of operator was expained with the national flag-carrier having a fleet of large aircrafts.
Mr Thanusak did not elaborate on why Phuket business and authorities decided to look for help from the full-service (and thus more expensive) national flag-carrier rather than any carrier from the budget segment including THAI’s own lowcost subsidiary.
Just like Governor Narong, Mr Thanusak stressed the necessity for Thai aviation to have long-term plans for upcoming holidays, including the Chinese New Year in late January and Songkran in April.
According to the national government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri, the cumulative number of international visitors to Thailand had reached 11.04 million by Dec 22.
A total of 5.72mn visitors were logged at Suvarnabhumi Airport, 1.45mn visitors in Phuket International Airport and 904,717 in Don Mueang International Airport, reported Bangkok Post on Saturday (Dec 24) quoting Mr Anucha.
Though no specific numbers are publically available, it is understood that a significant share of foreign visitors arriving to Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang do not stay in the capital and proceed to other destinations such as Phuket, Samui, Pattaya, Krabi and other.
This was exactly the case with Hetham Almdlj and Njood Alkhuwaiter, a Saudi couple welcomed at Suvarnabhumi Airport as the “10 millionth visitor to Thailand”.
Having been greeted by Gen Prayut and received all the gifts and souvenirs from business operators, Mr Almdlj and Ms Alkhuwaiter waved goodbye to Bangkok and flew to Phuket for their 10-day-long vacations on the shores of the Andaman sea.
According to Mr Anucha, Thailand has earned B1.5 trillion in revenue from tourist spending this year, reaching half the total value generated in 2019.
By next year, TAT expects the tourism industry will rebound to 80% of the total value of 2019, at B2.8tr. As tourist visits return slowly to pre-COVID levels, it has set a target to attract 50% of the number of international tourists in 2019, or about 20mn people.
"The premier [PM Prayut] has stressed the importance of restoring both international and domestic tourism in Thailand, together with spreading revenue to locals and communities," he said.
"The Tourism and Sports Ministry and various other agencies have been instructed to be prepared to handle the visitors arriving now, and the expected numbers in the future, and revise the tourism plan based on the readiness and potential of the country," he added.