For many people in Phuket, the brunt of having little to no income is most certainly being felt, but it does not seem that a full comprehension of what it will take to convince tourists to actually come to holiday on the island has yet to be fully realised.
This was just of many excellent points Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, President of Phuket Tourist Association, made earlier this week. Phuket cannot afford to wait for a vaccine, the island needs to create a ‘vaccine’ of its own to help the island’s tourism industry recover.
This not just about what the big shots in Bangkok want to decide about allowing tourism to be reopened, although of course nothing regarding tourism on Phuket can improve without their blessing – and let’s be honest, Phuket is not their top priority right now. They have more pressing matters nigh literally knocking on their door.
But beyond this is what Phuket can do to help itself. Even if the doors to international tourists returning to Phuket are re-opened, what are we going to offer them that will make them want them to come? And this is hot on the heels of the rising number of international tourists already starting to slow for a host of reasons just last year, before the rise of COVID-19.
Phuket is about to enter a period of competition for international tourists that it has not experienced in decades, and cost will be a key factor. This will not just be for the high-volume mass tourism market, it will be critical for nearly the whole spectrum. The whole world has been affected by the economic crisis, making the decision of where to go for a holiday and how much to spend on it so much more important – and that’s for people who can still actually afford to have a holiday.
All the greedy practices from days before the lockdown are about to be brought into sharp relief. High prices, price gouging, dual pricing are still openly identified as among the main detractors as one the key reasons that Phuket does to attract the volume of even domestic travellers. Of note, the one thing officials are not gloating about this weekend is how much this four-day weekend is expected to help Phuket. Keep in mind that the special public holidays on Thursday and Friday were created especially to help boost domestic tourism. That is how much the domestic travel campaigns are not working for Phuket.
Kongsak Khongphongsakorn, President of the Thai Hotels Association Southern chapter, was not joking when he warned months ago that Phuket all tourism business operators need to use the downtime to upskill their staff and hoteliers to do the best to renovate their rooms. After tourism is reopened, any tourists looking to come will expect value. Tourism businesses will not be able to rely on the general understanding that tourists will just come to Phuket anyway as they have done in years past.
There are many other behaviours that require a huge shift in the mentality towards tourism. The transport mafia has not even hit the radar yet, and we’re still dumping dirty wastewater into waters where we expect tourists to swim.
The diminishing green areas across the island due to development needs serious attention. When the president of the island’s association of property developers – that is, those who do the building – warns that the changes to land use around Patong may result in devastating change to the attractiveness of Phuket’s main tourism area, that is a warning that should be heeded.
As for the beaches, the jewel in the crown in luring tourists to Phuket, the sands are being picked clean to present the picture-perfect postcard image, while trash and other waste still lie strewn throughout the tree line – which for some reason is not still being understood is where tourists need to walk through before reaching the sand.
The new normal has been thrust upon us, and not just the likes of the hollow rhetoric bucketed upon us by officials. We can’t undo the past, but right now it seems a person could win a major international prize for just embracing the inevitable.
The chance for true change is right now. Failing to understand this opportunity will most likely be made plain by how long Phuket continues to endure suffering even after tourism is re-opened.