The coming months will be our first chance to glimpse what tourism recovery we can truly expect. Since the COVID entry measures were dropped entirely on Oct 1 the number of international arrivals at Phuket airport has jumped by just under 1,000 each day, on average.
No one expected tourists to return to visit the island in droves, and the floods this month dampened any hope of a boost in domestic tourists. Yet it is what Phuket is offering, and at what prices, that will attract tourists, and determine our immediate future. This applies for both domestic and international tourism.
Phuket is no longer an unspoilt tropical paradise. People no longer come here to “get away from it all”. They come here for a break or simply for the novelty that they have never visited here before. That’s it.
For these types of tourists there are expectations of what their stay will be like. Their expected quality of stay reaches beyond the hotel or resort. The overall impression and experience across the island is the key factor in determining how long they will stay, or even whether they will return. This includes the dining, the beaches, the shopping, the overall cleanliness of the place, how they are treated, the transport, and yes, even the roads.
What Phuket is currently offering in these respects leaves much room for improvement. While many of these factors are for the local people to provide, the general state of the island is the government’s responsibility. In this, and especially in the management of transport infrastructure, the state has failed.
Key tourism figures for years warned the Thai government that you cannot keep taking the money generated by a tourism island such as Phuket without investing back into the island’s infrastructure. The consequences as recently as March this year were branded “inevitable”. With the collapse of the road over Patong Hill, officials are now staring down the barrel of what those warnings meant.
Of note, Phuket officials, including the current Phuket Governor, have been left to stand in front of the cameras as ‘point men’ as they scramble to come up with solutions to providing safe road access to Patong. By no coincidence, Bangkok officials who have overseen the appropriation of tourism income generated by Phuket for decades have been nowhere to be seen. Most people are pretty sure they will turn up when the road finally reopens.
With no statements from anyone from the central government, who are usually willing to jump in and take the glory for any support provided, there is no indication of what pressure local officials are under to have the road over Patong Hill reopened as quickly as possible.
To this, the announcement yesterday that immediate roadworks now underway will see the road reopen to cars within 45-60 days is not inspiring. That timeline is possible only if more space is created by scraping away more at the hillside to make room for lanes away from the danger zone.
It also leaves very little time for properly shoring up the embankment that has already collapsed in a way that inspires confidence that the road will not collapse again.
Apparently this type of gambling is legal in Thailand. And with this, officials are hoping to inspire confidence among tourists to use the road to travel over hill once it reopens. Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.