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Opinion

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.

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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 3,900 radio news bulletins in Thailand alone, hosted 360 daily TV news programs, produced 1,800 videos, TV commercials and documentaries and is now CEO and writer for The Thaiger - Website, Radio, TV, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He presented for CNN, Deutsche Welle TV, CBC, Australia's ABC TV and Australian radio during the 2018 Cave Rescue and provides stories for Feature Story News as the south east Asian correspondent.

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Environment

Thailand’s swift response to the ‘fall armyworm’ pest

The Thaiger

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Thailand’s swift response to the ‘fall armyworm’ pest | The Thaiger

OPINION: Somsak Samanwong – Regional Technical Educator for APAC, Corteva Agriscience. PHOTO: East-East Seed

In Thailand, corn is an indispensable staple crop, used as an important source of feed for a thriving poultry and livestock industry. About 1.04 million hectares of our land is used to produce corn, with this year’s yields estimated at a record high of 5.3 million tonnes.

As Thailand becomes increasingly recognised as a major world food exporter, our reliance on corn is growing to meet consumer demand for meat, both locally and globally – we are currently the third largest chicken exporter in the world. For many of us, it comes as a surprise that this ordinary but versatile crop is intrinsic in fuelling our status as the “kitchen of the world”.

A small but powerful threat

However, this established position and the very growth of our food economy is currently under siege from the rise of fall armyworm, a pest so damaging that it can destroy corn crops overnight. The fall armyworm is an insect native to the Americas, where it has caused significant damage for decades. With a zealous appetite for corn, the pest quickly began to ravage crops in the Africa region following its arrival in 2016, causing losses of $13.3 billion.

Fall armyworm started moving closer to home, spreading across Yemen, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, before reaching Thailand in December 2018. Since then, around 50 corn-growing provinces have been infested, particularly in the west of Thailand.

Fall armyworm infestations can result in yield losses for corn of up to 50%, which can have devastating implications – for those whose livelihoods rely on their crops, but also for the poultry and other meat production industries whose success and expansion heavily depend on their produce.

What makes fall armyworm so challenging to control is its high reproductive capacity and long migration distances. The pest has been known to migrate up to 1500 km3, slightly more than the distance from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok, covering up to 100 km per night. Couple this ability to travel with rapid reproduction – four generations of fall armyworm can be observed in a single corn crop – and you have a devastating mix.

Recognising the tremendous impact of fall armyworm on the nation’s farmers and our food security, the Thai authorities and key stakeholders across the agriculture industry have come together, uniting efforts to equip our farmers with the tools they need to help manage the spread of fall armyworm. By applying our learnings with fall armyworm in response to future threats, we can help to ensure our farmers are empowered and our nation’s food supplies – for Thailand and for the rest of the world – are protected.

Taking swift and decisive action

Thailand’s Department of Agriculture responded to the first FAO warning of fall armyworm in India by setting up a surveillance program to monitor corn growing states along the shared border with Myanmar. During this time, informative materials about fall armyworm and the ongoing surveillance program were shared with relevant agencies, universities, and most importantly, corn farmers.

Establishing communication between the authorities and those on the ground was and remains an important focus, and a telephone hotline and Line account were set up so that farmers are able to report potential infestations. As a previously unseen pest in Thailand, setting up infrastructure to monitor crops in the recognition of fall armyworm was pivotal to aiding a quick response.

Thailand’s swift response to the 'fall armyworm' pest | News by The Thaiger

Imparting knowledge through educational efforts

Knowledge-sharing between the authorities, academic experts, farmers and industry is crucial in the fight against threats like fall armyworm. In November 2018, an educational programme for Thailand’s authorities developed with the Insecticide Resistance Action Committee (IRAC) by CropLife Asia helped to provide senior agricultural and food industry leaders with in-depth information about fall armyworm and its habits.

By sharing knowledge of the pest between the government and affected industries, accurate and up-to-date information could spread across the country almost as quickly as fall armyworm itself.

Farmers remain at the heart of agriculture, and thus, in-field education is of paramount importance to safeguard crops.

Through a series of training programmes and the provision of educational materials, farmers were educated on and empowered to adopt an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach, as recommended by the World Trade Organisation on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, to control and prevent the spread of fall armyworm. IPM combines pre-emptive treatments, scouting, monitoring and targeted treatments to protect the health of corn crops from seed to plant, and, in turn, to protect Thailand’s food security.

Equipping farmers with the necessary tools

In adopting an IPM approach against fall armyworm, it is our role as agriscience experts to ensure farmers have access to safe, effective and greener solutions to control its physical spread. And, through the development of innovative technologies, solutions are available to provide farmers with long-lasting control of fall armyworm, whilst being environmentally safe to use.

Amparar®, Corteva Agriscience’s foliar spray, contains the active ingredient Spinetoram and has been recommended for use in corn in Thailand to help protect corn crops against fall armyworm. It controls the insects in two ways – through ingestion and contact by the pest, providing a quick knock-down for lasting control. Amparar® has been awarded the prestigious Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award for its positive environmental profile and margin of safety towards beneficial insects. It is recommended by the Thai authorities as the top crop protection product for managing fall armyworm.

Our fight against fall armyworm has brought to light the invaluable role of corn in the development of Thailand as global provider of food. Perhaps even more importantly, it has helped to demonstrate how much can be achieved when public and private sectors work together in response to those that threaten our food security. We must continue to activate and engage all stakeholders – from farmers, governments, industry and academia – to ensure that, whatever the next threat to our “kitchen of the world”, we remain poised for action to protect it.

Thailand’s swift response to the 'fall armyworm' pest | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg

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Opinion

Buddhists call for boycott of Hilton & Waldorf Astoria Hotels with the opening of Siddhartha Lounge

The Thaiger

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Buddhists call for boycott of Hilton & Waldorf Astoria Hotels with the opening of Siddhartha Lounge | The Thaiger

OPINION: The Buddhist Times

Since its creation in 1996, Buddha-Bar Paris has been using the name and image of Buddha in it’s Bars and Hotels throughout the world. Typically the franchises use large statues of Buddha in their Bars and around dance floors and in restaurants similar to a Buddhist temple.

What makes the use of Buddha’s image in these bars most insulting to Buddhists around the world is that Buddhism does not support the consumption of alcohol. So to use the Buddha’s image as decoration to promote the consumption and sale of alcohol and as a prop on dance floors and in restaurants is especially disrespectful and hurtful to Buddhists.

Now comes a further insult with the Buddha-Bar franchise opening the Siddhartha Lounge at Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah. (Siddhartha Gautama being the full name of Buddha).

According to the Knowing Buddha Organisation in Thailand what the Buddha-Bar franchise is doing is not only disrespectful but it is immoral. The foundation points out that “Respect is Common Sense”.

Buddhists feel hurt by the misuse of the name and image of their father, as people of other faiths would be if the image of Christ or Mohammad were used to promote bars and nightclubs.

The Buddha–Bar, restaurant, and hotel franchise created by French-Romanian restaurateur Raymond Vișan and DJ and interior designer Claude Challe, with its original location having opened in Paris, France in 1996.

Raymond Vișan, according to Wikipedia, had the idea of establishing the chain of restaurants and bars which came from his fascination with the Orient. However at the age of 60 Visan suddenly died of terminal cancer. The franchise was continued by co-founder Claude Challe and Vișan’s wife Tarja, who took over the reins of the Buddha Bar franchise upon Vișan death.

Critics of the Vișan’s and Claude Challe say that these self described artists and creators have created nothing but bad Karma and Sin for themselves. They suggest that Buddha-Bar franchise is a form of “grotesque Plagiarism ” which has merely hi-jacked a 2500 year old religion, using the name and image of Buddha, who imparts peace, compassion and loving kindness, for the purpose of selling alcohol and making money. As any case of plagiarism it is expected that Buddha-Bar and Waldorf Astoria will soon find them selves in the courts say Buddhims advocats.

Buddhist around the world are calling the Boycotting of Waldorf Astoria Hotels Hilton Hotels, Buddha-Bars and the music of Claude Challe, demanding that they stop using the image of Buddha and instead creat their own brand.

The views expressed in this editorial do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of The Thaiger or its staff

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Opinion

Pattaya getting set for the Indian era – OPINION

The Thaiger

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Pattaya getting set for the Indian era – OPINION | The Thaiger

by Dan Cheeseman

I was a bit taken back by posters across the social networks where I shared the post that simply would not accept the Indians were bringing any value to Pattaya. Claiming Thailand would regret squeezing out the Western market and turning to the Chinese and Indians. It came across as sour grapes to me and also a delusion of grandeur from many of the Brits and Aussies that for some reason hold themselves on such a high global status.

I am a Brit and in the past probably have fallen victim to such delusions but am now refocused and aligned to the shift in the global market. I can see just how real this Chinese and Indian market has become and see no reason for it to not to continue growing.

According to Tourism Authority of Thailand, Indian arrivals into Thailand is expected to reach 5 million by 2023.

It is well documented what is happening in Thailand with the Chinese tourist and investor but still, the Indian market gets skirted over by many who refuse to accept anything other than the stereotypical images.

But they are wrong to do so and I think the winners in Pattaya will be those that embrace the Indian market as there is an increasing percentage who have good money in the pocket and are ready to spend it.

Just this week I was with a hotel developer and they exactly spoke of the shift in investors that parallel what we are seeing through tourism. They said before the Western market was good but now that has cooled, then the Russians came but that too has eased off; both due to changes in exchange rates from their end. Then the Chinese started to buy but as their exchange rates became less strong against the baht and getting money out of their country that slowed, but now has recovered somewhat.

He then said what others have also been saying, that the Indians were now becoming a very important market for selling too.

Whilst many restaurants are looking to target the F.I.T (Free Independent Traveller) Chinese tourist, I personally think the Indian tourist is a better fit for Western-type business in town.

Read the rest of the editorial HERE

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