Among the key indicators that tourism recovery in actual numbers is on the horizon is the announcement by Phuket FantaSea CEO Kittikorn Kewkacha that the popular theme park, which although not to everyone’s liking has proved popular for two decades, will re-open on Sept 20.
It is by no coincidence that the reopening is to come just 10 days before COVID-19 is to be finally declared endemic in Thailand, and by no coincidence that Mr Kittikorn has overseen the spending of B6.6 billion in creating a new area of the park for visitors to meet that deadline.
In this, Mr Kittikorn has delivered on the one thing that many top-flight tourism officials seem to have forgotten. Instead of just begging people to come back and enjoy the Phuket of pre-COVID days – or just revisit to see what we look like now with 60% of hotels on the island still yet to re-open – Mr Kittikorn has given people a reason to revisit the theme park even if for nothing more than to check out the new area, ‘Carnival World’, which alone covers more than 100 rai.
The timing of the reopening also comes as the tourism airlift to Phuket is finally seeing the announcement of, or actual launch of, a slew of scheduled flights helping to boost tourism, all coinciding with the fast-approaching Oct 1 deadline.
Cancelling of Test & Go saw daily arrivals of tourists sneak above 4,000, where the figure remains, but the re-designation of COVID-19, and even maybe finally the end of the emergency decree, on Oct 1 may well have the result many people have been waiting for.
As recently reported, Vietnam Airlines has relaunched its direct flights from Ho Chi Minh City to Phuket and Firefly Airlines after two years has resumed its service between Phuket and Penang, with four direct flights a week, and Korean Air will launch four direct flights from Seoul to Phuket starting Oct 1.
Looking further down the track, AirAsia X last week announced it will be resuming direct flights from Melbourne and Sydney from Dec 1 and Dec 2, respectively. Initial promotion fares are touted at just under B6,000 one way.
The announcement was so much welcomed that Australian Ambassador to Thailand Dr Angela Macdonald joined the announcement, standing alongside Thai AirAsia X Acting CEO Tassapon Bijleveld. Historically, 20% of all Australian arrivals in Bangkok make their way to Phuket.
Smelling an opportunity before that, Air Asia X will start flying directly from Tbilisi, Georgia, to Bangkok from Oct 8. Georgia itself has never been a major source market for Phuket, but it is geographically located right “next door” to two other main source markets that currently are unable to fly Phuket.
More announcements of flight services to Phuket are expected as Oct 1 approaches. As said by every major figure involved in tourism, no one is expecting an instant return to the volume of tourists Phuket experienced in the years immediately preceding the pandemic. The global economic situation has seen to that. But the increased airlift will bring more tourists to our island. As simple as it gets, without these flights tourists simply cannot get here.
All this bodes well for a brighter outlook for many people on the island who have suffered heavily under the banner of COVID-19. The future is bright, but much work still lies ahead. We need to step up our efforts to keep our island clean, and work harder on making sure that our illustrious taxi drivers give tourists a better impression to carry home with them, if their experience has not already been posted all over the internet.