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PATA: Phuket should brace for a “new breed of tourist’

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PHUKET: The tourism industry in Phuket should take preemptive steps to prepare itself for a major shift in tourism dynamics, a high-powered meeting of industry players was told recently.

A shift in global economics has prompted a trend for visitors to Phuket to be more likely to come from within the Asia-Pacific region, specifically India and China, said Bert van Walbeek, chairman of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Thailand Chapter.

Known affectionately as ‘Bowtie Bert’, Mr van Walbeek volleyed the caution at a SKAL-PATA meeting held at the Mövenpick Resort & Spa in Karon. The event, endorsed by the Ministry of Tourism & Sports, was the first ever held jointly by the two influential tourism organizations.

Phuket MP Anchalee Thepabutra and her husband, Korean Honorary Consul Tosaporn Thephabutra, along with Phuket Tourism Association Vice President Bhuritt Maswongsa and Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Phuket office Director Bangornrat Shinaprayoon were all present to hear his address in person.

Rounding out the collection of top-end tourism players at the event were representatives from the Thai Hotel Association; honorary consuls; hotel general managers; tour operators; local business leaders and Phuket-based media.

PATA pulled no punches in making clear the importance it attributed to the event. Headlining the speakers’ list were PATA CEO Bill Calderwood and PATA Global Board Member Luzi Matzig, who is also CEO of Asian Trails.

Joining them were PATA Thailand IT Chairman Blair Speers, who is CEO of the Phuket-based HotelTravel.com, and PATA Director of Chapter Development Ben Montgomery.

Heading the SKAL International entourage was the organization’s Phuket and South Thailand President Blandine Cressard.

Mr van Welbeek, armed with a slew of statistics garnered from PATA data research, treated the audience to a breakdown of the strengths and weaknesses of Phuket’s apparent tourism strategy.

He highlighted the new breed of Internet savvy tourist in the years to come and pointed out the advantages of having a joint early warning system using the Internet to make sure that the right information is disseminated should there be another crisis, such as the SARS epidemic.

Mr van Welbeek also demonstrated the depth of research data available through PATA, from which positive, preemptive strategies could be devised, by pointing out that, for example, in 1979 Phuket only had 1,945 rooms and in 1997 the occupancy rate for the entire year averaged 54%.

This first Phuket meeting between Skål and PATA took place with a view to launching a new era of cooperation in order to “promote, protect and enhance Phuket’s reputation” and hopefully form a PATA Phuket Chapter.

Both non-profit associations have a long history and there are some people who are already members of both. Skål was founded in 1934 and now has some 20,000 travel and tourism professionals who hold regular informal and formal networking meetings. They have been in Phuket for 15 years, have around a 100 members here and are active in supporting local community projects.

PATA has been around since 1951 and is a leading authority on travel and tourism in the Asia-Pacific region with strong links to private enterprise. There are 39 active PATA chapters worldwide including one in Bangkok.

“Skål International Phuket & Southern Thailand’s warm welcome and the unique opportunity to meet and greet our Skål and PATA colleagues ‘down-south’ and share information about each other’s valuable past, present and future contributions to the Thai tourism industry, shows that both in the public and private tourism sectors the ‘one-for-all, all-for-one’ mentality will prevail,” said Mr van Walbeek.

PATA Regional Director (Asia) Reid Ridgway agreed that a Phuket chapter would be beneficial to all. However he warned that it would require a lot of work and commitment in order to make it a reality. “Planting a seed is easy, it’s nurturing that seed to bear fruit of its own that involves commitment. Phuket tourism can gain deep benefits from PATA’s support, but it will require engagement from our members,” he said.

The offer has been made, it now remains to be seen if Phuket is ready to join.

Presentations from the evening will soon be available on www.pata-thailand.org

— Marc Mulloy

 

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