Saudi-Phuket direct flights set to launch as Thai diplomacy thaws

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Direct flights between Saudi Arabia and Phuket International Airport are slated to start in October, as announced by Monchai Tanode, the director of the airport. The Saudi-Phuket flights initiative is significant, marking the first-ever direct commercial flights between Saudi Arabia and Phuket since diplomatic relations were restored in the previous year.

The foremost direct flight to Phuket will be facilitated by Saudia, the national carrier of Saudi Arabia. This follows from their launch of commercial flights between Saudi Arabia and Suvarnabhumi Airport in February of last year. The start of these Saudi-Phuket flights marked a thawing of icy diplomatic relations that had previously persisted between the nations for three decades.

The root of the diplomatic downgrade between Saudi Arabia and Thailand dates back to the murder of Saudi diplomats and the subsequent disappearance of a Saudi businessman in Bangkok. These incidents followed closely on the heel of the theft of state-owned Saudi gems in 1989.

Monchai revealed that a watershed moment occurred last year when Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha accepted an official invitation from His Royal Highness Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The invitation led Prayut to Riyadh, marking a significant step in the restoration of bilateral relations. His Royal Highness Prince Mohammad bin Salman serves dual roles as Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence.

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Monchai further elaborated that numerous major Gulf carriers, including Etihad and Emirates, are currently operationally active in Phuket. This influx is a testament to the steady resurgence of tourism in Phuket in a post-pandemic world, reported Bangkok Post.

As things stand, direct international flights to Phuket are operated from multiple countries, including Russia, South Korea, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and India. In his dialogue with the press, Monchai highlighted that most long-haul flights to and from Phuket involve layovers in Dubai.

An endeavour by the Phuket Tourist Association to stimulate tourism in Phuket, especially during the low season, led to a series of roadshows being held in Saudi Arabia in March.

In his concluding remarks, the airport director mentioned that the footfall at Phuket airport is witnessing a steady recovery phase post-Covid. Current estimates indicate a recoup of 80% of its domestic flights and 70% of its international flights from the pre-pandemic phase.

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Mitch Connor

Mitch is a Bangkok resident, having relocated from Southern California, via Florida in 2022. He studied journalism before dropping out of college to teach English in South America. After returning to the US, he spent 4 years working for various online publishers before moving to Thailand.

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