He has been with TAT for more than 30 years and represented TAT ‘home’ – in many of Thailand’s provinces, and ‘away’ in both Malaysia and the American city of Los Angeles. It is after spending a three year stint in the City of Angels that he has returned to his homeland and to our wonderful, well-visited, yet ‘troubled’ island.
Yet Mr Chanchai’s naturally optimistic nature allows him to see the ‘quality’ in Phuket’s tourism, despite the island’s well-publicised woes of late.
“The major problem we see in Phuket tourism today is the declining quality of the island's tourist attractions,” said Mr Chanchai.
He lists beach encroachment, fraud and poor service standards as examples of the decline.
“If the products that are integral to the draw of Phuket's tourism have problems, then it's like we are lying to our guests when we try to sell them a good image of the island,” he said.
Mr Chanchai told The Phuket News that he saw huge potential in Phuket as an island that could offer visitors various as-of-yet untapped options, such as being a destination for weddings, honeymoons and golf tours.
He added that Phuket was currently performing very well in attracting what he referred to as the ‘wealthy and healthy’ tourism market. This includes visitors who come to the island for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) and also of late, to use the island as a location for filming movies and TV shows, water sport competitions and beauty contests.
Mr Chanchai believes that out of all those market groups, ‘quality’ tourism must be offered to visitors to create sustainable tourism, where tourists return to Phuket again and again.
He considers security as a major priority to ensure its success, with Phuket's environment another major factor in order to create ‘qualified’ tourism. Mr Chanchai added that there were various obstacles to overcome before that happened.
“Phuket's good image has recently been discredited by bad news. But the bad news is actually fact, so we shouldn't make excuses, instead we should focus on preventing the sources of the problems.”
Mr Chanchai added that he would like to urge collaboration among authorities to fix Phuket’s woes.
On the other hand, he also said that he believed Phuket deserved ‘quality behaviour’ from its visitors as well.
Last year, approximately 5.5 million tourists visited the island with more than B100 billion generated from the tourism industry.
It is expected that about 7 million tourists will visit Phuket by the end of 2012, while the number is expected to jump to 12 million by 2014. He added that the Russian and Chinese market in particular have increased by 107% and 105% respectively.
With this rapid growth in the tourism numbers, Phuket authorities have been pushing on with several projects, including the construction of new roads and expansion of Phuket International Airport.
The government's plan to increase the national tourism income up to B2 trillion by 2015 is expected to bring even more mass tourism to Thailand, with much of that headed to Phuket.
However, Mr Chanchai said that he had concerns that mass tourism would most probably contribute to the decline of the quality of tourism on the island.
“We can't avoid giving priority to tourist numbers today,” he said, “but we hope that one day we will achieve in bringing in more high-end quality tourists, rather than just focusing on quantity.”
One way of achieving this would be to encourage niche groups in Phuket's tourism, he explained. Niche groups, so-called ‘special interest tourism’, are visitors who spend more money on specialist activities than general visitors.
In Phuket especially, the TAT has been attempting to attract groups of luxury cruises and volunteer tourism to bring in these ‘quality’ tourists.
“Phuket may have not yet reached success in the niche market, but we believe the island has enough strength to achieve this in the future,” said Mr Chanchai.
Though the niche market seems to focus on the high-end market, he believes the pursuit of this should not necessarily exclude other markets.
“Even if tourists can't spend much money during their trip, they could still be ‘quality’ tourists if they visit Phuket for learning-and-comprehension tourism,” said Mr Chanchai.
Learning-and-comprehension tourism is a term Mr Chanchai uses to refer to the strategy of employing local culture and traditional events like PorTor and the Vegetarian festival to attract tourists.
Mr Chanchai is feeling positive about Phuket’s future, “This island should welcome all kinds of tourists. Essentially the tourist's quality is in their positive impression of Phuket.”