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Opinion

Phuket’s wake-up call. The hard work starts here.

Tim Newton

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Phuket’s wake-up call. The hard work starts here. | The Thaiger

OPINION

More hotels, a changing tourist mix, an exodus of expats and a decline in tourist numbers. Despite the new Tourism and Sports Minister pumping up the local tourism tyres during his visit last weekend, there’s a lot of hand-wringing and the sound of closing shop shutters around the tourist island of Phuket.

To make things more complicated the situation is not consistent in all areas of the tourism industry on the island. Some hotels still report good occupancy numbers although almost everyone is admitting they’re discounting rates to keep the tourist cash register ringing.

There are really only two conversations in Phuket.

  1. The tourists are coming
  2. The tourists aren’t coming

Everyone has an opinion and there is broad, but mostly unfounded, suspicion in the TAT’s statistics. Keyboard warriors continue to believe their own opinion and what supports their narrative no matter how many facts anyone throws at them.

There is a sense of mild panic but most of it is unwarranted, in the long-term.

Statistically, and historically, things really aren’t THAT bad. In a worst case scenario – say the tourism arrivals were really down 30% – then we’re back to tourism numbers of 2016 when things were considered OK. 2016’s tourism numbers were more than four times the numbers of a decade before. So the flight numbers and passenger arrivals have been, generally, on the up and up for two decades. It’s been a good run and the island has morphed from a tropical destination into more of a tourism business hub with a lot of investment and new money being spent in Phuket.

Away from tourism there’s also an anecdotal decline in expats living on the island, particularly in the English-speaking nationalities from UK, Australia, America and South Africa. Speaking to a number of Embassies and Honorary Consulates in the past week they’ve shared their feeling that the numbers have been declining without providing specific figures.

Any hard times in the tourism industry impacts everyone on the island – it’s a holiday island and has little to fall back on in the way of other industry or manufacturing. There will be fewer jobs for expats, locals and the people that have moved from other parts of Thailand to enjoy the fruits of Phuket’s tourism rise.

Bill Barnett from c9hotelworks.com, who lives on the island and has been following tourist, airlift and hotel stats for two decades, says the drop of tourism for a few months this year is on the back of big growth in the early part of last year and the sense of ‘panic’ is largely unwarranted.

“Hotel and tourism remain cyclical businesses and, in looking at declines now, we have to look at first half of 2018 that was a high water marker, so the bar is raised exceptionally high.”

“Phuket despite being an island is being effected by a larger picture. The global Chinese slowdown is not just about the boat sinking but the US-China trade war and the slowing Chinese econonic picture will impact the entire world – we are just one piece of a much larger picture. Nothing grows in straight lines and what is encouraging about Phuket longer term is geography, airlift and the broad tourism product. Every road has bumps in it and we are hitting some this year.”

“But more than 15,000 new keys (hotel rooms) will come on the market within the next five years. The surge in room numbers is not only hurting the revenue of hotel operators but also causing damage to natural resources.”

Meanwhile an anonymous, prominent Phuket hotelier, who writes articles about the island’s hotel industry for The Thaiger, says that the signs are quite good for the coming months.

“It has been very positive to hear that from mid-August and especially September figures are now moving nicely with a good pick up of reservations currently on hand. For example, our resorts are now already showing ‘on the books’ figures higher than we ‘closed’ the month of September in 2018 which is very encouraging to see.”

“Some of our Chinese partners have been asking for more rooms as their holiday season starts which is very positive and more traditional ‘low season’ tour operators’ supporters too.”

But even the Thai Hotels Association note that the numbers weren’t good for Q2 this year following a reasonably good New Year and Chinese New Year.

“Average room rates for the first six months this year dropped 5% compared with the same period last year.”

“From April to June, the rates slid further by 8%, worse than expected as the Songkran holidays did not bring a respite to the province.”

Phuket's wake-up call. The hard work starts here. | News by The Thaiger

But the situation is sure to remain ‘lumpy’ with a continual evolution in the tourism demographic, much of it more to do with world trends and global economics more than what individual businesses or even the TAT can do to drive extra tourist arrivals.

For now it is up to local businesses to stop assuming the tourists are just magically going to turn up and be pro-active in promoting their businesses. Checking your instagram posts and your Facebook feed, sitting behind the counter, isn’t going to help the situation.

When the going gets tough, the tough have to get going, or shut up shop. The slight drop in tourism in Q2 deserves justifiable concern but business owners, tour operators, island and tourism officials need to accept and embrace the changes.

So too, the ingrained locals hunkered around Fort Bangla Road who still think all the tourists need are expensive drinks and girlie shows. That this hub, and a lot of Patong, is having a difficult year should come as no surprise as the rest of Phuket has blossomed in the past decade providing a lot of competition for the party town and are chasing the 2019 tourist, not the ones from 1990.

There are few islands with such good beaches, reasonably good infrastructure, excellent hotels and tourist options as Phuket, in the region. And the island connects to Krabi, Phang Nga, Khao Lak and Krabi – all with growing infrastructure and potential.

Phuket will continue to thrive, mostly through the stubborn resolve of the people that live here and rely on the island’s success for an income.

This year’s ‘bumps’ have been a wake up call that the tourists, and expats, won’t keep coming by waiting at the doorway or praying at the temple. The hard work starts now.

Phuket's wake-up call. The hard work starts here. | News by The Thaiger

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Read more headlines, reports & breaking news in Phuket. Or catch up on your Thailand news.

Tim Newton has lived in Thailand since 2012. An Australian, he has worked in the media, principally radio and TV, for nearly 40 years. He has won the Deutsche Welle Award for best radio talk program, presented 3,900 radio news bulletins in Thailand alone, hosted 360 daily TV news programs, produced 1,800 videos, TV commercials and documentaries and is now CEO and writer for The Thaiger - Website, Radio, TV, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He presented for CNN, Deutsche Welle TV, CBC, Australia's ABC TV and Australian radio during the 2018 Cave Rescue and provides stories for Feature Story News as the south east Asian correspondent.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    dnads

    August 11, 2019 at 2:25 am

    Thailand has to realize, there is so many other beautiful countries and cultures to see and experience. I stay long term in Thailand currently but when my visa is up there is little reason to want to return. It’s very easy to get 1 year multiple entry visas to Cambodia, Vietnam etc. And their currencies are more friendly to the dollar. The government needs to realize anti farang laws have a serious impact.. like previous comment says TM30 and and the stricter approach to farang will have a serious impact on tourism and $$$.. Red light districts dont have the same pull as they did 10-20 years ago. I have little to no reason to ever go to Phuket again. If the government wants to attract tourism they need a new approach in this ever changing world.

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Environment

Thailand’s swift response to the ‘fall armyworm’ pest

The Thaiger

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Thailand’s swift response to the ‘fall armyworm’ pest | The Thaiger

OPINION: Somsak Samanwong – Regional Technical Educator for APAC, Corteva Agriscience. PHOTO: East-East Seed

In Thailand, corn is an indispensable staple crop, used as an important source of feed for a thriving poultry and livestock industry. About 1.04 million hectares of our land is used to produce corn, with this year’s yields estimated at a record high of 5.3 million tonnes.

As Thailand becomes increasingly recognised as a major world food exporter, our reliance on corn is growing to meet consumer demand for meat, both locally and globally – we are currently the third largest chicken exporter in the world. For many of us, it comes as a surprise that this ordinary but versatile crop is intrinsic in fuelling our status as the “kitchen of the world”.

A small but powerful threat

However, this established position and the very growth of our food economy is currently under siege from the rise of fall armyworm, a pest so damaging that it can destroy corn crops overnight. The fall armyworm is an insect native to the Americas, where it has caused significant damage for decades. With a zealous appetite for corn, the pest quickly began to ravage crops in the Africa region following its arrival in 2016, causing losses of $13.3 billion.

Fall armyworm started moving closer to home, spreading across Yemen, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, before reaching Thailand in December 2018. Since then, around 50 corn-growing provinces have been infested, particularly in the west of Thailand.

Fall armyworm infestations can result in yield losses for corn of up to 50%, which can have devastating implications – for those whose livelihoods rely on their crops, but also for the poultry and other meat production industries whose success and expansion heavily depend on their produce.

What makes fall armyworm so challenging to control is its high reproductive capacity and long migration distances. The pest has been known to migrate up to 1500 km3, slightly more than the distance from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok, covering up to 100 km per night. Couple this ability to travel with rapid reproduction – four generations of fall armyworm can be observed in a single corn crop – and you have a devastating mix.

Recognising the tremendous impact of fall armyworm on the nation’s farmers and our food security, the Thai authorities and key stakeholders across the agriculture industry have come together, uniting efforts to equip our farmers with the tools they need to help manage the spread of fall armyworm. By applying our learnings with fall armyworm in response to future threats, we can help to ensure our farmers are empowered and our nation’s food supplies – for Thailand and for the rest of the world – are protected.

Taking swift and decisive action

Thailand’s Department of Agriculture responded to the first FAO warning of fall armyworm in India by setting up a surveillance program to monitor corn growing states along the shared border with Myanmar. During this time, informative materials about fall armyworm and the ongoing surveillance program were shared with relevant agencies, universities, and most importantly, corn farmers.

Establishing communication between the authorities and those on the ground was and remains an important focus, and a telephone hotline and Line account were set up so that farmers are able to report potential infestations. As a previously unseen pest in Thailand, setting up infrastructure to monitor crops in the recognition of fall armyworm was pivotal to aiding a quick response.

Thailand’s swift response to the 'fall armyworm' pest | News by The Thaiger

Imparting knowledge through educational efforts

Knowledge-sharing between the authorities, academic experts, farmers and industry is crucial in the fight against threats like fall armyworm. In November 2018, an educational programme for Thailand’s authorities developed with the Insecticide Resistance Action Committee (IRAC) by CropLife Asia helped to provide senior agricultural and food industry leaders with in-depth information about fall armyworm and its habits.

By sharing knowledge of the pest between the government and affected industries, accurate and up-to-date information could spread across the country almost as quickly as fall armyworm itself.

Farmers remain at the heart of agriculture, and thus, in-field education is of paramount importance to safeguard crops.

Through a series of training programmes and the provision of educational materials, farmers were educated on and empowered to adopt an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach, as recommended by the World Trade Organisation on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, to control and prevent the spread of fall armyworm. IPM combines pre-emptive treatments, scouting, monitoring and targeted treatments to protect the health of corn crops from seed to plant, and, in turn, to protect Thailand’s food security.

Equipping farmers with the necessary tools

In adopting an IPM approach against fall armyworm, it is our role as agriscience experts to ensure farmers have access to safe, effective and greener solutions to control its physical spread. And, through the development of innovative technologies, solutions are available to provide farmers with long-lasting control of fall armyworm, whilst being environmentally safe to use.

Amparar®, Corteva Agriscience’s foliar spray, contains the active ingredient Spinetoram and has been recommended for use in corn in Thailand to help protect corn crops against fall armyworm. It controls the insects in two ways – through ingestion and contact by the pest, providing a quick knock-down for lasting control. Amparar® has been awarded the prestigious Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award for its positive environmental profile and margin of safety towards beneficial insects. It is recommended by the Thai authorities as the top crop protection product for managing fall armyworm.

Our fight against fall armyworm has brought to light the invaluable role of corn in the development of Thailand as global provider of food. Perhaps even more importantly, it has helped to demonstrate how much can be achieved when public and private sectors work together in response to those that threaten our food security. We must continue to activate and engage all stakeholders – from farmers, governments, industry and academia – to ensure that, whatever the next threat to our “kitchen of the world”, we remain poised for action to protect it.

Thailand’s swift response to the 'fall armyworm' pest | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg

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Expats

Opinion: Retirees and medical insurance in Thailand

The Thaiger

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Opinion: Retirees and medical insurance in Thailand | The Thaiger

By Barry Kenyon of The Pattaya Mail

Thai government spokespeople, in recent years, have emphasised that that Thai hospitals are not free for foreigners. They have cited examples of sick and crowd-funded aliens desperate to get back to their home countries, or annual reports from public hospitals bemoaning the unpaid bills of foreign nationals.

So far not a lot has happened. Holders of one year 0/A visas or ten year 0/X, issued by Thai consulates and embassies abroad, do now require medical insurance worth at least 400,000 baht for in-patient treatment and 40,000 baht for out-patient care. But the vast majority of expat retirees in Thailand receive their annual extensions of stay at a Thai immigration office. They do not currently require insurance.

Will that change? It’s not clear. The government has already stated that long-stay aliens with a history of physical illness may be checked out before an extension of stay is granted. What this means, if anything, is unclear but it could signify the immigration bureau’s refusal if an applicant is discovered to have unpaid hospital bills.

One substantial reason for leaving well alone is that many expat retirees self-insure because they are too old or infirm to obtain medical insurance. But these wealthier retirees contribute billions of baht annually to (mostly) private hospital coffers when significant surgery is required. They would be forced out of the country if unobtainable medical cover was made compulsory, thus leading to a gigantic loss of income.

It’s also true that the mandatory insurance requirement for 0/A visa holders is modest. A sum of 400,000 baht may seem a lot but is unlikely to cover the total bill for heart surgery, most cancer operations and stays in an intensive care unit, at any rate in the private sector.

Read the rest of the editorial HERE.

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Opinion

Buddhists call for boycott of Hilton & Waldorf Astoria Hotels with the opening of Siddhartha Lounge

The Thaiger

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Buddhists call for boycott of Hilton & Waldorf Astoria Hotels with the opening of Siddhartha Lounge | The Thaiger

OPINION: The Buddhist Times

Since its creation in 1996, Buddha-Bar Paris has been using the name and image of Buddha in it’s Bars and Hotels throughout the world. Typically the franchises use large statues of Buddha in their Bars and around dance floors and in restaurants similar to a Buddhist temple.

What makes the use of Buddha’s image in these bars most insulting to Buddhists around the world is that Buddhism does not support the consumption of alcohol. So to use the Buddha’s image as decoration to promote the consumption and sale of alcohol and as a prop on dance floors and in restaurants is especially disrespectful and hurtful to Buddhists.

Now comes a further insult with the Buddha-Bar franchise opening the Siddhartha Lounge at Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah. (Siddhartha Gautama being the full name of Buddha).

According to the Knowing Buddha Organisation in Thailand what the Buddha-Bar franchise is doing is not only disrespectful but it is immoral. The foundation points out that “Respect is Common Sense”.

Buddhists feel hurt by the misuse of the name and image of their father, as people of other faiths would be if the image of Christ or Mohammad were used to promote bars and nightclubs.

The Buddha–Bar, restaurant, and hotel franchise created by French-Romanian restaurateur Raymond Vișan and DJ and interior designer Claude Challe, with its original location having opened in Paris, France in 1996.

Raymond Vișan, according to Wikipedia, had the idea of establishing the chain of restaurants and bars which came from his fascination with the Orient. However at the age of 60 Visan suddenly died of terminal cancer. The franchise was continued by co-founder Claude Challe and Vișan’s wife Tarja, who took over the reins of the Buddha Bar franchise upon Vișan death.

Critics of the Vișan’s and Claude Challe say that these self described artists and creators have created nothing but bad Karma and Sin for themselves. They suggest that Buddha-Bar franchise is a form of “grotesque Plagiarism ” which has merely hi-jacked a 2500 year old religion, using the name and image of Buddha, who imparts peace, compassion and loving kindness, for the purpose of selling alcohol and making money. As any case of plagiarism it is expected that Buddha-Bar and Waldorf Astoria will soon find them selves in the courts say Buddhims advocats.

Buddhist around the world are calling the Boycotting of Waldorf Astoria Hotels Hilton Hotels, Buddha-Bars and the music of Claude Challe, demanding that they stop using the image of Buddha and instead creat their own brand.

The views expressed in this editorial do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of The Thaiger or its staff

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