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Opinion: Creating sustainability in tourism

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, 43, is the vice president of the Phuket Tourist Association (PTA). Born and raised in Phuket, he graduated with a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Missouri, Kansas City, USA.

Here he talks about different tourist markets and how the PTA plans on making them more sustainable.

PHUKET: In terms of tourism, the island is doing very well at the moment. Of course, most of this is due to the fact that we are in peak season right now.

In about a month, however, we will be losing many tourists, as it’s the end of the Chinese New Year, which also marks the end of Phuket’s high season. This year, I have to say that I am a bit worried, as China’s economy has started to have problems and there is no clear way of knowing what the long-term effects will be.

The best way to describe it is that China has come down with a slight cold, but hasn’t gotten a fever yet. All we can do is wait for them to get better or sneeze, and then see what the effect will be on the countries around them.

At the moment, Chinese visitors still come to Phuket in tour groups. But the number of high-end tourists is increasing. The PTA is currently trying to figure out ways to encourage those who come on charter flights or tour groups to become high-end, free independent travellers (FIT). This is actually our biggest project in the Chinese market.

As far as the European market is concerned, the numbers are quite low. Australian tourists are also dwindling because of the baht’s strengthening against the Australian dollar.

So it’s now time to take a closer look at our options. Currently, we are working on ASEAN roadshows to appeal to new markets close by. I think this will sustain, or at least maintain, our AEC tourists.

But in order to expand and promote Phuket tourism to these market, as well as others, we need more variety – not just sun, sea and sand.

Because of this, we will now focus more on sports tourism and cultural tourism, due to Phuket being recently named by UNESCO as a City of Gastronomy.

I think this helps to promote Phuket’s image tremendously, as gastronomy is not something that is out of our reach. It is all around us – you can see it in Phuket’s variety of food. We have our own recipes that we have been using for generations and will continue to use for generations to come. This has great potential to change Phuket’s tourism industry.

Another thing we are going to promote is the image of Phuket as a ‘Smart City’. The reason for this is that there are so many investors coming to the island. They are technically not tourists, as they come to work and travel, but they often have their family and friends visit. In this aspect, they provide a lot of income to the island and we want to maintain the interest of investors by utilizing information and communications technology to enhance the quality of urban services.

Supporting investment and technology on the island will definitely help boost sustainable income.

However, at the end of the day, Phuket is a tourist destination. Both the government and private sectors are doing their best to develop and push the island’s tourism forward.

The PTA will do everything it can to help sustain and promote tourism here, but most importantly, I wish to see all of Phuket’s residents help by being good hosts to our visitors and to remembering that we are not only representing the island, but also the country, in the eyes of international tourists.

— Chutharat Plerin

 

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