The public scramble to reassure confidence in tourist numbers comes while Weerawit Kreuasombat, President of the Patong Entertainment Business Association (PEBA), which represents some 500 entertainment businesses in Phuket’s busiest tourism party town, vehemently disagrees – saying that this is “the worst high season in Patong in 10 years”.
Ms Kanokkittika admitted that the number of Chinese tourists visiting Phuket so far this month has dropped by 2.63% compared with the same period last year, but also pointed out that the fall in Chinese arrivals had been offset by a 3.63% increase in the number of arrivals from other source markets.
“I cannot agree that the number of tourists in Phuket has fallen,” she said. “I know the number of Chinese tourists has dropped, as confirmed by Phuket Immigration. They have recorded 130,221 Chinese-national arrivals (at Phuket International Airport) from Dec 1-15.
“That is a decrease of 3,516 people compared with the same period last year, but that has not caused a huge fall in the number of tourists.
“There have also been 355,429 arrivals of other nationalities (during the same period), which is an increase of 3.63%,” she added.
Ms Kanokkittika noted that room bookings from group tours in Phuket had seen a fall of 5% due to cancellations, and a corresponding fall of 5% (down to about 3,000 a day) in the number of tourists boarding tour boats at Rassada Pier, the main departure point for tours to the islands in Phang Nga Bay, including Phi Phi Island.
However, she added, “We have certainly found that we have more FITs (free, independent travellers) travelling here. Hotel occupancy right now across all nationalities 71.77%, which is a 0.1% increase on last year.”
According to figures cited by Ms Kanokkittika, 14.75% of tourists to Phuket during the first two weeks of December were Thai, with the remaining 85.25% comprising foreigners.
“The average spending was B8,2110.80 per person per day, generating an estimated B40.39 billion per day. Hotel occupancy in beach areas is 84.78%,” she said.
Phuket Tourist Association Vice President Sarayut Mallum, who for decades has openly spoken against government policy that has worked to the detriment of Phuket and is now also President of the Phuket chapter of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA), agrees with Ms Kanokkittika.
“It is a normal gap in the high season, from Dec 1-15, as with every year. I think more tourists will arrive after Dec 20. Then tourists will come to Phuket,” he told The Phuket News.
“We know that Chinese, Russian and Indian tourists are already coming. Also, the arrivals statistics from Phuket International Airport have not decreased at all,” he said.
“Phuket is not as bad as some people are sharing (online) and talking about. Everyone is doing their job, including the TAT and other government departments. Please don’t believe what some people are saying on social networks. Beware of getting information only from social media.” Mr Sarayut added.
However, PEBA President Weerawit remained steadfast in his understanding of the dire economic situation facing members of his organisation.
“I am a businessman in Patong, and I want everyone to realise the truth about the massive impact here. Some of my members have been seriously affected,” Mr Weerawit said.
“I don’t think the government will help with this at all. They never help us. It is the worst high season in Patong in 10 years. We have no way to avoid being affected by this.
“Don’t lie to yourself. Accept the reality,” he said.
Yet Mr Weerawit also argued strongly against the claims online that Phuket had “priced itself out of the market”, making itself so expensive that the tourists now chose not to come here.
“I want to tell people who comment without understanding about the high prices of food and goods in Phuket. They are the normal prices as they used to be,” he said.
“Less tourists is the result of several reasons, which even includes the upcoming election. The election has not even happened yet, but it is important to people outside (the country),” he added.
Meanwhile, Adith Chairattananon, the ATTA Secretary General in Bangkok, and who campaigned heavily for the government to roll out tourism stimulus packages to offset the plunging number of Chinese tourists coming to Thailand in the aftermath of Phoenix tour boat disaster on July 5, maintained his call for tourism-dependent businesses in Phuket to diversify in order to alleviate their dependence on only one key type of tourist.
“I agree with the description that there are less tourists in Phuket right now. My advice to business people in Phuket is that they have to adapt their businesses in relation with the current economic situation,” he said.
“It is a priority for Phuket province to preserve tourist’s safety and their lives, to charge only fair costs and to be friendly to tourists – all these are needed,” Mr Adith urged.
“Also, we have joined together with the Phuket Tourist Association to hold tourism road shows to promote tourism to Thailand,” he added.
Of note, the Phuket Tourist Association staged tourism road shows in France and Russia before and immediately after the Phoenix disaster on July 5; though the road shows were organised well before that fateful day.
Phuket has since seen surges in the number of arrivals from both those source markets.