PHUKET: South Korea’s two leading air carriers, Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, will suspend their direct flights to Phuket from next week.
South Korea’s Construction and Transportation Ministry said on Tuesday that it had accepted the airlines’ applications for suspension of operations to Phuket, blamed on an abrupt decline in the number of passengers.
Asiana will stop flights between Seoul and Phuket next Tuesday (June 28). Korean Air will drop its Seoul-Phuket route on Wednesday (June 29), and its Pusan-Phuket route the following day.
Pattanapong Aikwanich, President of the Phuket Tourist Association, told the Gazette that, if Phuket International Airport had agreed to airlines’ request for a reduction in landing fees, Korean Air and Asiana might not have decided to suspend direct services to Phuket.
“A number of local businesses, including my own – the Diamond Cliff Hotel – have been dealt a sharp blow by the [two] airlines’ decision, since Korean tourists will have to waste time traveling via Bangkok,” K. Pattanapong said.
Also hit are businesses such as that of Kim Hong Feok, who opened his Kang Chon Korean restaurant in Phuket City just six months ago.
“I was aware that Korean Air might end direct flights to Phuket but, although it’s a serious situation for my restaurant, I haven’t laid off any of my staff in the hope that there will be an upswing around December,” he said.
Udom Metatamrongsiri, Executive Director of the Tourism Investment Department of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, told the Gazette that both Korean airlines had said they would resume flights to Phuket in October, when tourism is expected to improve.
“I had hoped that Korean tourists would continue to visit Phuket, but we have to be patient. They are understandably reluctant to go to any country where so many people lost their lives.
“However, I believe next year they will show their support and come back to Phuket,” K. Udom said.
But Kitti Phatanchinda, Vice-President of the Phuket Tourist Association, pointed out that, in the low season, Asian markets are the most important and Korea is a top tourist market, in terms of both the number of visitors and the amount of money they spend here.
“It is regrettable that Asiana and Korean Air will suspend their operations to Phuket. Some companies catering to Korean tourists, along with some Korean businesses here – which once numbered more than 30 – have already been forced to close down,” he said.
K. Kitti added that, if tour operators in Korea now switch to other destinations, it would become even more difficult to attract Koreans back to Phuket, because it takes tour operators a great deal of time and trouble to develop new packages in the first place.
“While Korean tourists still travel through Bangkok, most of them are switching their ultimate destinations from Phuket to Isaan and Cambodia,” he said.
One small piece of good news is that Australian Airlines has launched direct charter flights from Sydney to Phuket. The first was on June 27, and there will be five more before the end of July.
“This is good news for Andaman tourism. The number of Australian visitors to our island has increased 8% over the figure for January,” K. Udom said.
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