Connect with us

Opinion

OPINION – The devil is in the detail. Phuket tourism

Tim Newton

Published

on

OPINION – The devil is in the detail. Phuket tourism | The Thaiger

“Last year Phuket International Airport hosted a record number of passenger arrivals both on overseas and domestic flights exceeding 8.4 million.” – Bill Barnett, c9hotelworks.com

An article appeared this week providing a misleading, dare I say ‘fake’, impression about the current tourist situation in Phuket. Given the highly selective and well-timed photos you would think that Phuket has been deserted by tourists and the place is a ghost town.

“The streets are barren and the high season has failed to arrive.”

“A devastating analysis – mostly via pictures – appeared on Facebook.”

“Expensive Phuket dead as a dodo this high season.”

OPINION - The devil is in the detail. Phuket tourism | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Facebook Jimmy Elizabeth

The article was high on opinion and anecdotes but low in facts or information from industry players.

Far from being an apologist for the ‘enthusiastic’ numbers sometimes provided by Thai authorities, The Thaiger is simply interested in the facts. So let’s just state the actual situation for the public record.

Phuket’s high season, so far, appears anecdotally, to be down on recent record years. But we’re talking up to 10% max, a long way from the ‘ghost town’ status that was painted by the article. Phuket has recorded a steady growth in tourists – 10-20% annually – for the past decade.

As usual, the situation is ‘lumpy’ with many hotels reporting that they’re booked out for the Christmas/New Year period, others still have rooms available. There has been an adjustment in the tourist mix, for sure, with some of the high numbers of Chinese tourists softening with other markets, including past European, Indian and Japanese tourists, filling spaces left by the Chinese.

The Thaiger can confidently assert that tourists are still coming to Phuket, in high numbers. We contacted a random selection of hotels and got the following anecdotal responses…

Mat Christie Hindmarch, Director of Hotel and Resorts, AKSARA Collection, noted that it was lovely to see Patong so busy both daytime and nighttime last weekend during his daily drive-through the coastal tourist town.

“It has been slightly sluggish this year in comparison with last. Thai tourism is facing challenges with, for example, the very strong Thai Baht, BREXIT (to a small extent as UK guests are holding onto their cash at the moment waiting to see what actually happens), Scandinavia, especially Sweden too has seen issues with their own currency making overseas travel more expensive than ever.

“The Russian market has fallen with very last minute sales and some heavy discounting needed to attract customers. Some operators put this down to the lack of slots at HKT international airport resulting in them having to head to Krabi instead,” said Mat.

“We’ve had a strong 2018, except for the past two months when we’ve seen about 15% drop in our numbers year-on-year. But bookings are strong from now to Christmas, about the same as last year, and then booked out until mid-January with strong bookings up until April. Certainly the Chinese numbers have dropped off but we’re still getting a lot of the FIT travellers from China who book us through Chinese travel Apps. – Phoebe Collins

Another hotel operator, who asked not to be named, said, “For this year, we are actually seeing the same ‘average room rate’ as for 2017 however the number of occupied rooms is down approximately 10% year on year. We are also seeing a swing towards a third adult sharing a room more than before.

“November, one of our resorts closed the month OVER budget and over last year figures, whilst the other did see drop in occupancy mainly due to some markets being maybe over confident with their start of high season projections”, he said.

Speaking about the Chinese market, Mat Christie Hindmarch said that the drop in Chinese tourists was been mostly affected by recent events, “however, we have already closed out during the Chinese New Year at one of our resorts with the Chinese agents trying to secure ‘pre buy’ during this time.

“Recent trips to China produced positive results and new agents are coming to work with us here in Phuket. Agents told us that they expect a strong bounce-back at Chinese New Year to previous figures.

c9hotelworks.com Managing Director Bill Barnett says that, while total numbers have fallen slightly, Phuket is still a lot busier than the ‘dead as a dodo’ article makes out…

“Last year Phuket International Airport hosted a record number of passenger arrivals both on overseas and domestic flights exceeding 8.4 million.  Putting 2018 into perspective, we have looked at latest actual numbers for January through October and factoring in current trends anticipate that full year 2018 will see close to 9.0 million passenger arrivals. This would be an 8% increase in year-on-year traffic. and not bad. considering the impact of the mid-year boat sinking episode. Good news, Phuket is far from dead.”

Last Saturday night this writer had to drive around Patong to get to the opening of a new rooftop club and it took about 35 minutes to get along Beach Road to the venue, opposite Loma Park. The traffic was as bad as usual during a bust period.

We also note that Phuket’s roads are as busy as would be expected for this time of the year so the roads are clogged with the usual tour coaches and passenger vans ferrying tourists to various destinations. There’s certainly no drop off in the number of vehicles on the road.

TEAFFIC ALERT- PHUKETSlow, slow traffic coming into and leaving Patong on the Patong Hill Road. Patience needed. It’s moving but going to be a slow plod in either direction for a few hours.

Posted by The Thaiger on Thursday, December 20, 2018

We’ve also had people sending us pictures of long Immigration queues, a sign that the planes are certainly still arriving full of tourists. The airport was certainly busy on Monday evening – these photos sent to us by a reader around 10.30pm. He reported that he’s seen the airport busier but said it was still busy.

OPINION - The devil is in the detail. Phuket tourism | News by The ThaigerPHOTO: Phuket International Airport passenger departure lounge area

But we acknowledge that there are some businesses who are finding it difficult to attract customers. Businesses who have operated in places like Patong for the past decade have seen a remarkable change in the tourist mix, shopping habits and expectations of tourists. Many have failed to adapt and shun the changes necessary to keep up with the evolving arrivals.

We should also acknowledge that there is huge room for improvement in many of the services and infrastructure. Did anyone say ‘taxis’ or ‘public transport’?

At the same time there has been a huge surge in new hotels, tour operators, tour boats AND island traffic. There is a lot of new infrastructure underway and many new investments in the pipeline over the next five years.

Addressing the ‘expensive’ label, Phuket’s costs have risen, along with all major Thai holiday venues. You can cherry pick a few examples of high costs (taxis, tuk tuks and beach road restaurants) but, as an eight year expat, I can’t really notice any huge changes in the general cost of living for weekly food shopping, accommodation or daily costs.

We enjoy a bit of good-spirited Pattaya v Phuket competition but the article was simply incorrect and designed to give a false impression of the tourist situation in the Pearl of the Andaman.



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 3,200 radio news bulletins in Thailand alone, hosted 360 daily TV news programs, produced 1,800 videos, TV commercials and documentaries and now produces digital media for The Thaiger - Website, Radio, TV, Instagram and Facebook.

Opinion

What’s the use of number plates if you can’t read them?

The Thaiger

Published

on

What’s the use of number plates if you can’t read them? | The Thaiger

by DW (anonymously sent to The Thaiger)

Hiding in plain sight, and rarely noted—at least by anyone I’ve spoken with—are thousands of cars, vans, buses, trucks, and even motorcycles. Most are commercial vehicles … you know, the ones with green and yellow plates.

Now when I say they’re “hiding in plain sight”, I mean to say that yes, you can plainly see that it’s a Toyota Camry, or white passenger van, but take a look at that license plate. Isn’t it difficult to make out the numbers now that they’re painted over with the same colour as the background?

Oh, wait a minute, maybe you’re looking at one of those immaculate plates that have the highly reflective plastic covers. Yes, those ones that catch any bit of sunlight and bounce it back in such way that the plate numbers are near impossible to read.

Bad enough during the day, but at night, the glare from your own headlights is enough to blind you!

Speaking of which, there is another interesting observation to be made: Next time it’s dark and you are in a line of cars waiting for the light to turn green, take a look around at the license plates.

You will likely see a lot of vehicles that have the small lights meant to illuminate the rear plate either not working or, dare I say, “modified” to disguise the numbers barely on display. If you’re keeping tabs, you will also note that the vast majority of these modifications are associated with the green and yellow license plates.

Does that surprise you?

Now consider how many times you’ve seen vehicles racing through the streets, highways, and byways of this fine little island. And, for just a moment, stop and think, how many times have you noted green or yellow plates in those photos of horrific accidents that are all-too-often reported in our newspapers?

What of the speed cameras and prolific use of CCTV to monitor every street, lane, and intersection? Surely that must go some way to reducing the carnage. (It seems we hear less of drivers fleeing the scene, so maybe there is a return on the investment, after all.)

Now if disguising your license plate amounts to a traffic violation, you would be right to assume the police are missing an opportunity to collect a hefty sum in fines levied against perpetrators. Since speed cameras are effectively rendered useless in the face of 30% of vehicles carrying plates that are unrecognisable, there again is huge loss in revenue.

Well then, what to do? What to do?

Here’s an idea: Police checks and road blocks are common enough; fines are given out for driving without a seat belt, no helmet, no insurance, improper registration or lack of a driving license, etc. So why not for license plates that are illegible, modified, or intentionally disguised?

What about a public reporting system that allows citizens to photograph a plate and send it directly to the police? Officers could issue fines from the comfort of their desks.

Before long, the practice of “hiding in plain sight” would lose its appeal. Instead of becoming more popular, it would diminish, possibly even stop altogether.

At the end of day, one has to ask: What is the purpose of a license plate if it cannot be read?

What's the use of number plates if you can't read them? | News by The Thaiger What's the use of number plates if you can't read them? | News by The Thaiger

Continue Reading

Opinion

The 35 billion baht white elephant – Phuket’s light rail

Tim Newton

Published

on

The 35 billion baht white elephant – Phuket’s light rail | The Thaiger

“About the only thing feasible in this rendering is the blue sky.”

Spending 35 billion baht on infrastructure that few will use, is planned on the least useful route and will cause mayhem for a 3-5 year build time is a waste of money.

The Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA) is currently chatting to the private sector and local administrative bodies to support Phuket’s planned light-rail/tram project.

Firstly, where will it travel?

The tram route plans to run from Tha Noon in Phang Nga province, across Sarasin Bridge onto Phuket, past the airport, through Phuket Town on the east coast and then finishing at Chalong’s main intersection near the Chalong Circle.

Phuket’s tourists, who mainly head for the west coast beaches, are being almost completely ignored in the planning.

Oh, but the tram will travel from the airport to Phuket Town (where less than 5% of Phuket’s tourists stay). That route is already well connected with Airport and private buses – the least of Phuket’s transport woes.

The two-way tram will be constructed right in the middle of existing, already busy, roads – principally Thepkasattri road from the island’s north to Phuket Town. Then in the middle of the equally busy Chao Fah East road which, mostly, doesn’t already have a centre-strip.

The MRTA expects to seek cabinet approval for the project in the middle of this year with construction likely to begin in 2020. They estimate it will be operational by 2023 (code for ‘maybe before 2025’).

At this stage, the MRTA estimates fares will be no more than 100 – 137 baht, less for shorter hops between the 21 proposed stations. This already puts the cost of daily use for many local Thais out of reach. If it costs about 80 baht to fill an average 110cc scooter which would last most of the week – you do the maths.

Then the locals will still have to use public transport, or their feet, to get to and from the nearest tram stop.

Here are four key problems with the whole idea…

The tram stops avoid most of the tourist hot spots along the west coast of the island and concentrates on locals living along the main Thepkasattri trunk from Thalang to Phuket Town and then Chao Fah East to Chalong.

Patong? Kata? Karon? Surin? Mai Khao? Kamala? Nowhere near them. We acknowledge that a tram would never be a solution to get to people to and between these locations.

The second point is a glaring failure in the concept to measure popular and cheap services currently available – mostly the trusty and cheap motorbike.

Thai users are unlikely to give up their point-to-point motorcycle transport for a more inconvenient, and expensive, tram that will necessitate them using expensive taxis, buses and motorcycle taxis at either end to get them to their destinations.

Next, imagine the three year construction period which, if following recent major road construction projects, is likely to blow out to four or five years. And the massive disruption of traffic during the construction time. Ask anyone living in Chalong and Rawai about how the roadworks at the Chalong circle has affected their lives in the past three years. It’s been chaotic, time-wasting, dangerous and stressful.

Finally, the loss of road space along the route will restrict local road traffic even more, neutralising any nett gains of the new tram system. Tram rails, in both directions, 21 stations, the overhead walkways (to get people to the sidewalk areas), parking… where is all this going to go? It will chew up limited road space and bring traffic and people even closer together – a recipe for disaster.

Phuket badly needs public transport reform. Recent infrastructure to improve roads, add underpasses and improve existing services has gone part of the way to making life better for locals and tourists.

But this new white elephant completely ignores the real elephant in the room – the intransigent cabal of the taxis and tuk tuks on the island which ‘could’ be the island’s best asset. But instead they are a feared, reviled and a much-discussed tourism killer.

Local people almost completely avoid taxis and tuk tuks (they already know their fares are ridiculously priced when compared to other parts of the country), and tourists use them because there’s not a lot of alternative only to end up with occasional horror stories in social media, complaints to the Tourist Police and a lasting impression of Phuket as an over-priced tourism pearl that’s lost its lustre.

Spending 35 billion baht (let’s spell that out for you – 35,000,000,000 baht) on a shiny new tram system does little, if nothing, to address the island’s key transport issues – better roads and better alternatives for transport in and around tourist zones.

Your comments are welcome on our Facebook page.

The 35 billion baht white elephant - Phuket's light rail | News by The Thaiger

Continue Reading

Opinion

Opinion: Sovereignty, rights ignored in airport debacle – The Nation

The Thaiger & The Nation

Published

on

Opinion: Sovereignty, rights ignored in airport debacle – The Nation | The Thaiger

Thailand could have blood on its hands if it fails to protect a Saudi traveller on her journey to freedom.

The fate of a Saudi woman on her way to Australia, where she has a visa and seeks to obtain asylum, teetered in the balance in Bangkok at press time yesterday. Amid Thailand’s apparent willingness to deport her back to Saudi Arabia, rights lawyers representing her failed to get a Bangkok court to accept an injunction against her repatriation, which could have spelled her doom. Then came an abrupt about-face as the head of Immigration announced that, contrary to his earlier remarks, she would not be deported against her will.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, had barricaded herself in a hotel room near Suvarnabhumi Airport while Thai authorities fumbled over a case that could have grave repercussions for our country. She believed she would be killed if Thailand sent her back to Saudi Arabia, where her family has allegedly subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.

According to reports late Sunday, Saudi and Kuwaiti officials seized her as she deplaned at Suvarnabhumi and forcibly confiscated her travel documents. New York-based Human Rights Watch has backed up her claims, though its sources are unclear.

“They took my passport,” al-Qunun was quoted as saying by news agency AFP, adding that her male guardian had filed a complaint in Saudi Arabia that was she was travelling “without his permission”, as Saudi law requires of women.

“My family locked me in a room for six months just for cutting my hair,” she said.

“I’m 100 per cent sure they will kill me as soon as I get out of the Saudi jail.”

Thai Immigration chief Surachate Hakparn first told reporters that Qunun was barred from entering Thailand because “she had no other documents such as return airfare or money”.

She insisted she had valid travel papers and was merely in transit through Bangkok en route to Australia, for which she had a visa.

Human Rights Watch was appalled by Thai Immigration’s apparent readiness to accommodate the Saudi authorities. “What country allows diplomats to wander around the closed section of the airport and seize the passports of passengers?” deputy director for Asia Phil Robertson asked, pointing out Saudi Arabia’s horrendous record on rights.

It will indeed be encouraging if the Thai government takes a firm stand in the matter after foreigners overtly trampled our sovereignty. Diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia have gradually improved since the ruinous affair of a Thai stealing gems from the Saudi royal family more than two decades ago. We owe the Saudis nothing. If there is even the slightest possibility that this woman’s life is in danger, Thailand must oppose her repatriation.

The incident comes just three months after Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi who was critical of his country’s rulers, was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Turkey. That case has roiled international opinion.

Thailand cannot afford to be at the centre of another such controversy, even if this one has a far lower profile. But there was Surachate early yesterday saying al-Qunun would soon be on a plane bound for Saudi Arabia.

“It’s a family problem,” he said, sounding devoid of compassion. Surachate appeared not to have heard – or not to care – that a member of her family vowed on record that Qunun would indeed be severely punished on her return, possibly even killed.

This is decidedly not a “family problem”. It is a direct threat to the same fundamental human rights that Thailand has sworn to protect, even if Saudi Arabia does not extend such rights to women.

Al-Qunun has every right to flee harsh treatment at home and seek asylum in a country willing to protect her. Tragedy could ensue simply because, on her way to gaining freedom, she first touched down in Bangkok.

Published originally on The Nation

Continue Reading

The Thaiger Newsletter

Keep up with all the day’s news. Subscribe here.

The latest news and information from Thailand.

* indicates required

Trending