Phuket’s tourist evolution – Diversity is the best option Part 1
by Guest Writer
Today’s guest writer has been managing resorts around Phuket for two decades and has represented his brand at international expos along with promotions for Phuket over the years. His knowledge is first-hand and steeped in local experience. He has asked to remain anonymous.
At the end of the 1990’s into the early 2000’s Phuket saw the drastic increase in number of guests from Scandinavia countries with their tour operators investing many millions of Baht in developing new resorts to cater for their expected dramatic increase in tourism to Thailand.
Today most of these resorts still stand and have successfully operated since but, some (as ours have) have seen the Scandianavian guests moving out and focusing more on Khao Lak as a preferred destination plus the resort towns of Hua Hin and Rayong who emerged as preferred destinations for the Scandinavian market. They too have seen changes with the development of small communities of private housing to cater for this market in preference to traditional resorts. This is also true for couples and the ‘silver’ market (over 60s). Families however are very much geared towards purpose-built family-friendly resorts, or resorts operated/managed by their tour operator.
In the early 2000’s we also saw the beginnings of the Russian market starting to check out Phuket as a new destination. I remember when one tour operator, who is very successful now, came to our resort to ask for some rooms and if they could pay on departure for their guests rather than before their arrival. We were one of the first to say ‘yes’ and even today the tour operator always recalls that early business assistance when they chat with me.
Since then Phuket experienced arrivals from Russians drastically increasing year on year beyond any expectations, until now. For our resorts, we relied on the Russian market to fill nearly 80% of the resort for high season and they just carried on asking for more and more rooms until April this year when this market’s numbers dropped through the floor. As Egypt has re-opened and Vietnam is seen as the ‘new’ place to be seen, Russian guests are now heading to these destinations and Phuket has been left behind.
Will they come back? Only time will tell, but over the past year the number of families has increased heavily with over 60% of one major tour operator’s guest arrival list being families. So if the Russians do come back (and everyone is positive that they will), it COULD mean that there is a shift in choice of beach or choice of resort offering more kid-friendly opportunities.
Resort operators therefore need to look at the future and ‘change with the times’. In some cases this might mean having to change their guest room configurations to cater for market swings or as in the case of a friend’s resort, knock down single rooms and build more family-friendly accommodation! Upgrade facilities to cater to the new markets. This also goes for local establishments – restaurants, attractions, tours and retail shops.
In our resorts, we have increased the number of family rooms by over 100% with 50 rooms currently being converted to cater for this market.
The Chinese are still getting over the Phuket boat tragedy last July and the recent ‘auction’ of the boat just dragged on this pain and uneccessary loss of friends and families. When we visited Chinese travel partners late last year, their anger and sadness of this tragedy was still front of mind and Chinese social media was still encouraging others to travel to safer countries who look after their visitors.
Chinese partners had moved their advertising campaign budgets to other destinations, and this was noticeable as Japan took over as the number one choice of Chinese visitors during their ‘golden week’ last year. But Thailand is still a very important market to our travel partners and they will continue to support Thai and Phuket tourism.
The Chinese visitor should be welcomed with open arms here in Phuket and we need to understand the power of their social media in relation to recommendation of eateries, shopping opportunities and where to be seen with their selfies!
One simple selfie can have over 5 millions LIKES within a few minutes and that is fabulous free PR for the island and the location where they took the selfie. Welcome to the world of social media and millennials!
The move away from group tours to individual travelers (FITs) continues as we hear of our partners in China reducing tour groups down to 40% (Beijing operator) and 50% (Shanghai) of their total guest mix and the power of the online platforms to ‘book and travel’ on the same apps means that the Chinese have plenty of choices of where to go. Visa-free countries for the Chinese visitor are being added all the time and the Chinese tourist have been happy to explore new destinations.
Two major Chinese partners mentioned that it is not just Thailand feeling the decline in Chinese tourists this year, but also several countries within Asia this year.
Tomorrow we’ll look at the new nationalities that are looking to Phuket, some statistics from our hotels over the past year and some of my thoughts about Thailand’s strong currency.
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