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Phuket Opinion: On the tourism horizon

PHUKET: Having tourists back on our beaches for the New Year is a sight for sore eyes, especially for people on the island whose incomes suffered heavily over the past two years, yet there is some room for apprehension on the horizon as the island’s tourism industry continues to recover.

By The Phuket News

Sunday 1 January 2023, 09:00AM

Tourists take to the water at Kata Beach, Photo: Phuket Info Center

Tourists take to the water at Kata Beach, Photo: Phuket Info Center

This time last year, after peaking with tourist arrivals numbering in the mid- to high-4,000s over the New Year,  the number of arrivals plunged to 2,609 on Jan 4 ‒ thanks to the Omicron outbreak..

This year the daily average of international arrivals at the airport is bouncing between 10,000 and 12,000, with some 35,000 in total expected to arrive to enjoy the island over the New Year break.

The number of arrivals is expected to continue to steadily trend upwards, as more people venture from their home countries for their long-awaited respite from the COVID lockdowns followed by financial hardship brought on by the global recession.

Leading tourism figures are calling for more direct flights to Phuket to serve the pent-up demand now being served, instead of having tourists arrive via Bangkok. Yet the announcement that the Chinese market can resume from Jan 8 deserves caution.

The last time tourists from Mainland China were served en masse their drain on resources took the island’s infrastructure to breaking point. This is no slight on the Chinese tourists, it is a simple matter of numbers. The decision to allow so many tourists on the island in the past lay at the feet of the Thai government and Thai tourism industry ‒ not the Chinese tourists coming to enjoy Phuket just like people from any other country.

During the COVID tourism shutdown, Phuket once again became that island paradise that so many people living in colder climates pine for. The beaches, bereft of tourists, were as stunning as the postcards, the streets were cleaner ‒ and safer. Today, we are staring down the barrel of a return to the pre-COVID strain on the island that made Phuket lose its appeal so much for so many that they chose not to return.

AXA Insurance PCL

As already marked mid-last year, thanks to the pandemic, Phuket’s tourism industry has been afforded an opportunity to rebrand and rebuild, and avoid the hole we dug for ourselves just five years ago. Promoting the beaches while piles of trash sit just metres from the sand, in plain sight of tourists walking to and from the beach, is not acceptable.

Beyond that, there is the inevitable strain on our water reserves, the beach water itself faces a return of wastewater taint, not to mention what the immediate future of traffic on the island entails. The completion of the road megaprojects now green-lighted under the banner of the Expo 2028 bid are still four long years away.

While loudly repeating the same information over and over again like an inept salesperson, our leading officials have not even whispered what the projections for traffic are while construction is underway.

Meanwhile, Patong’s storm drains and roads need serious attention, Phuket Town’s parking availability remains strained, Cherng Talay needs contruction containment, the development of Nai Yang and Mai Khao needs clear direction before they too become eyesore ’beach areas’, and Karon and Kata need help just putting on a bright, clean appearance after being battered by the tourism shutdown.

There is much to look forward to as we enter 2023, but if we do not avoid our mistakes of the past, as the saying goes, we are doomed to repeat them. We have already been warned by the impacts of the unsustainable tourism push of 2017-19. There is no need to go down that road again.

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Timothy | 06 January 2023 - 08:22:18

Steve, the beaches that Phuket promotes as "world class" don't  have toilet and showers. Beaches in most other tourist destinations are cleaned every morning with machines. There are garbage bins, toilets, showers....But not here. In Phuket they let sewage flow right onto the beaches. We complain because it should be better run and managed, not mafia controlled. 

Steve wooly | 05 January 2023 - 22:21:08

The islands resources are already under threat,  during covid the beaches were cleaner turtles were returning again, more tourism will damage the environment again. Phuket simply cannot cope with more tourists, when it's raining raw sewage flows across the streets,and rats run in and out of the garbage on the streets, and especially in Patong many establishments don't have clean toilets.

christysweet | 01 January 2023 - 18:41:23

Time to mandate social responsibility please to a resort on Layan, Soi 7 which keeps their area spotless by sweeping  trash onto neighbor's  properties. No effort at recycling,  filling up 8   large  bins ++ bags  a day. That spill  over  ends up washed or blown onto my property It also stinks    Please do an expose, I'll send pics.  #BadNeighbors

Kurt | 01 January 2023 - 15:40:57

Well, did anyone expect something coming out of the 'New Normal' talks? Let's be real, the only thing Thai fascinated by the pipe line to their money coffers. They don't feel love and care for Thailand. Just softening words to hide their practices and fooling own brothters and sisters at lower society levels. Nothing will change.

Capricornball | 01 January 2023 - 12:05:43

While the beaches may look OK, piles of illegally dumped trash clutter the edges of commerce (see south end of Surin). The streets of Bangtao are clogged all day and in the worst condition of anywhere in Phuket but the new developments just keep coming. I and many others feel that traffic conditions are the worst ever seen, even pre-covid and pre-coup. And the Chines wave is coming soon.

Capricornball | 01 January 2023 - 11:59:04

Indeed, the years of shut down, officials did absolutely NOTHIING to better accommodate the return of tourism. It is now open season for everything and anything, and many beaches and areas are miserably packed with rampant businesses swallowing every inch of space with illegal business. Surin is now rife with boats and jetskis and the stench of aggressive cartels. 

JohnC | 01 January 2023 - 09:11:55

Good article. Sadly, saying no need to go down that road again is like listening to a broken record repeating itself endlessly. They WILL (indeed already have started to) go down that same greedy road because it is the only one they know and understand. Get the mass tourist numbers here with money to spend and worry about the consequences later. Some people are not capable of learning....


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