PHUKET: Phuket has experienced unprecedented growth across at levels of the retail sector over the past two decades, but without any real improvement in customer service – especially in terms of product knowledge and foreign language skills.
Rapid improvement in these areas is needed if the island is to capitalize on its many advantages and to emerge as a regional retail hub by 2015, when the terms of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) charter take effect.
The introduction of the AEC 2015 charter is being heralded as marking the advent of a whole new era of economics for the Southeast Asian bloc. Analysts throughout the region have repeated their warnings that increased competition among the ten member economies will open the door for the most competitive organizations to reap substantial rewards.
Phuket is well positioned to take advantage of the post-2015 market, and tourism promotion enthusiasts are already bestowing the title “ASEAN Tourism Hub” on the island, which currently has more than 43,000 registered rooms in accommodation establishments – not to mention thousands more in unregistered domiciles.
Although many feel that the accommodation market is saturated, more units are on the way. According to research by C9 Hotelworks, Patong alone has more than 4,200 new rooms set to open between now and the end of 2014.
Getting to Phuket has also never been easier, with the island emerging as Thailand’s second “regional hub” thanks to low-cost carriers such as AirAsia and the growth in the number of direct flights available from throughout Southeast Asia.
Of special importance is the Chinese market, which recently overtook Australia as the top source of tourists for Phuket. And that market shows no signs of slowing down.
There are now 50 direct scheduled and charter flights a month to Phuket from mainland China, and the four websites that sell tours over the Internet in China reported a 37 per cent increase in revenues from 2009 to 2010.
Consumer savvy among Chinese tourists is also likely to increase. Many now find themselves at the mercy of unscrupulous tour operators who methodically bus them to gem shops, clandestine dealers in medicines such as local turtle penis, and other such “attractions” in the hope of raking in sales commissions.
But by 2015 it is likely that there will be growing segments of the Chinese market who prefer Armani, Arpege, and Andara.
Just as it can with lodgings, Phuket is able boast a wide variety of shopping options, with something for every tourist regardless of spending power.
But when it comes to the point of sale, what visitors want is good product knowledge, workable language skills and courtesy – not harassment by sidewalk touts of dubious immigration status, or the vacant stares so common now behind the counters of retail outlets throughout the island.
Serious retailers in Phuket might want to take inventory of staff productivity, attitudes and competence. Change is possible. Some say that Bangkok and Singapore are proof of it.
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