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OPINION – The devil is in the detail. Phuket tourism

Tim Newton

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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

No sign of concrete policies for conflict in the far South

The Thaiger & The Nation

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No sign of concrete policies for conflict in the far South | The Thaiger

by Don Pathan

Parties offer few if any answers for a 15 year old deadly insurgency that successive governments have failed to quell.

Peace and conflict have never been significant parts of any political party platform in Thailand. This is because a sustainable solution calls for long-term commitment to a policy that could prove to be politically costly.

Lasting peace requires self-reflection on the part of both the state and society. Policymakers have to rethink the policy of assimilation that has so far been rejected by the Malay Muslim populace of the southern border provinces because it comes at the expense of their cultural and religious identity.

Full-fledged armed insurgency erupted in the far South in the 1960s, some 50 years after the signing of the Anglo-Siam Treaty that defined our current political borders.

There was a brief calm in the 1990s, but the absence of violence did not mean peace. A new generation of militants was being groomed by the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) and this time the separatists did not look to Arab countries for financial support and training, but developed their own resources at the grassroots level.

BRN fighters surfaced in 2001, only to be dismissed by then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as “sparrow bandits”. That characterisation changed on January 4, 2004, when scores of armed insurgents raided an Army battalion in Narathiwat and stole more than 350 military weapons.

Successive governments have been dabbling in peace initiatives, but none succeeded in getting the BRN – which gives all of the armed combatants their orders – to participate in talks.

At a recent public forum in Bangkok organised by Amnesty International, Pauline Ngarmpring, the Mahachon Party’s transgender candidate for PM, spoke in terms noticeably absent from the Democrat and Pheu Thai speeches – mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and cultural diversity.

The Future Forward Party’s representative blamed the 15 years of discord in the South on government mishandling and mistreatment of citizens. There is some truth to this, but it overlooks the fact that the Malays of Patani – the three border provinces – see themselves as having a unique identity that defies full assimilation.

The parties contesting Sunday’s election have generally been careful about the issue as they seek to impress both Muslim and Buddhist voters.

Future Forward has risked campaigning for a reduced military presence in the South and insisted that the diplomacy of give and take be the guide in peace talks.

Canvassing for votes

Political canvassers can earn a lot of money in the far South. From shady warlords and influential figures to Muslim clerics and community leaders, the canvassers have particular attributes or profile in common. All they need to do to succeed is connect with the voters.

Future Forward has scorned the deployment of canvassers, though, dismissing it as part of the patronage system they vow to curtail.

In the 2011 election campaign, all parties but one promised to give the Malay-speaking region “special administrative status”. The Democrats made no such pledge and still won 11 of the 12 available seats.

In this campaign, no one is repeating the promise.

The Pheu Thai Party promised special status in 2011 and won the national election, but then reneged on it once in government. It only served to convince the southerners that promises given them can be broken at no political cost to the one making the pledge.

Seeking cultural identity

Despite the obvious religious connotations, the conflict is still largely ethno-nationalistic in nature, though the authorities have often tried to get Muslim clerics to condemn the violence on religious grounds. The clerics who do so then face the wrath of the combatants. (There are, of course, also religious leaders who say the BRN is justified in taking up arms against the state.)

Prachachat, the so-called “Muslim party” led by Wan Muhammed Noor Matha, a wily politician and close ally of |Thaksin, has had both Islam and multiculturalism prominent in its campaigning. So far, though, there has been no elaboration on context or intent.

Nor has any party broached last year’s hijab row at Anuban Pattani Elementary School, in which 20 Buddhist teachers walked off the job because Muslim girls came to class wearing headscarves.

About 85 per cent of the region’s two million residents identify themselves as Malay Muslim, not Thai. The teachers seemed to wish to remind the Malays of Patani that they’re a defeated people and must abandon traditions and assimilate as citizens of Thailand.

Thus espousing the common denominator remains the safest track to electoral victory. Politicians know that most voters respond to patriotic evocations of “Thainess”.

No sign of concrete policies for conflict in the far South | News by The Thaiger

SOURCE: The Nation

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Election

Will it be same same but different after this Sunday’s vote?

Tim Newton

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Will it be same same but different after this Sunday’s vote? | The Thaiger

Thailand’s military junta, which has ruled the Land of Smiles since snatching control in a coup in 2014, is now trying to bring its leader, Prayut Chan-o-cha, back as an ‘elected’ PM in next week’s election.

The NCPO has cobbled together an ambitious economic plan that’s rests on a 1.7 trillion baht (US$54 billion) spending spree to revive competitiveness in an economy that remains hamstrung by depressed business confidence and investment.

High speed rail links, an expanded economic corridor to the east of the capital, spending on airports and new infrastructure in the capital  – these are a few of the Junta’s favourite things.

Economic growth is lagging its peers in the region, productivity has weakened and companies are reluctant to invest whilst the elephant remains in the room – political uncertainty and a whiff of military tampering.

The return of democracy this Sunday has its own risks. When the official results are eventually announced, perhaps weeks following the poll, there will be some sort of transition from military rule to civilian rule. If the Palang Pracharath party – pro-military and pro-Prayut – is able to convince voters to keep marching along, then the transition will be relatively simple.

If, however, and more likely, that a coalition of pro-democracy parties is able to form a majority in the country’s lower house of Parliament, the transition may become ‘messy’.

The new government will crow loudly that they have a mandate to unravel some of the long-term economic plans, and even the constitution, that was put in place by the NCPO during their half decade in power.

But the military-appointed upper house of review, the National Legislative Assembly, will likely quash any changes to the military’s ‘vision’.

And on we will go – more political uncertainty, more unrest, and potentially, more protests in the future.

Groundhog Day.

Thailand’s establishment elites, principally based around Bangkok and parts of the south, have dueled for power with the populist alliances of former premier (and now fugitive) Thaksin Shinawatra for over a decade, a fault line that could bring gridlock to the next parliament.

Thaksin and his proxy parties have prevailed in each election since 2001, only to be unseated by the military or the courts each time, most recently in 2014 when the Yingluck Shinawatra government was kicked out of office.

The ongoing instability weighs heavily on Thailand’s competitiveness and investment allure.

Thailand hasplunged 10 places on the World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness index in the past 11 years, the biggest drop among South East Asia’s top economies – to rank 38 out of 140 countries in 2018.

The index measures everything from the openness of the economy and quality of infrastructure to the strength of institutions and innovation.

But Prayut has cut red tape, making Thailand one of the 10 most improved nations in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2018 rankings as it vies with neighbours such as Vietnam for investment.

Now it’s the Thai voters who take the next step in this achingly slow politically drama that casts a long shadow over the future of Thailand.

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Election

Thailand’s future is dissolving right before our eyes

The Thaiger & The Nation

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Thailand’s future is dissolving right before our eyes | The Thaiger
by Edward Kitlertsirivatana

When an animal is cornered, with no other options, its survival instinct kicks in.

It will fight tooth and nail for its life. With the dissolution of Thai Raksa Chart party, attempts to dissolve other rival parties are in the air. You can smell it.

If they were to be dissolved, desperate measures may materialise. And it doesn’t bode well for the country. I therefore urge those with their hands on levers of power to consider carefully the consequences of such actions and let cool heads prevail over the instinctive “us vs them” impulse.

With each contest of power, the ice-cream cake of economic opportunities is melting away, while our neighbours’ cake is expanding as reflected by their GDP growth. For a Buddhist country like ours that preaches compassion, tolerance and understanding, we use emotions far more than our cerebral cortex. A tragedy.

The biological reality is that most of the people in power today won’t be there in 20 years. But young parties and their representatives, such as Future Forward, will be. Their worldview will likely differ from that of their parents.

Is it time then for a supra-national government comprising all major political parties? For instance, the Democrats may acquire the Finance Ministry, Pheu Thai gets the Ministry of Commerce and Transportation; Future Forward gets the Education Ministry; Pracharath gets Defence, and so forth.

Alternatively, drawing on Malaysia’s constitutional monarchy system, where each ruler takes a turn as head of state every five years, each major Thai political party could likewise run the country and all ministries for five years, after which the next party would automatically take over.

Other parties waiting for their turn will serve as opposition. Absurd as these ideas are, they are better than the cycle of “election-and-coup” we have achieved thus far.

The bottom line: Politics is negotiable. Paying bills is non-negotiable. For the sake of the country’s future, do not corner the Pheu Thai and Future Forward parties.

Reprinted from The Nation

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