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Phuket’s time machines

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Phuket’s time machines | The Thaiger

PHUKET: Phuket moves forward into the 21st century, striving and struggling to maintain its name and reputation as a world-renowned destination, island and home.

Along with progress have come problems. A sharp rise in population and increased traffic congestion are among the downsides of rapid urbanization.

One of Phuket’s most pressing issues is public mass transport, or lack thereof.

Indeed, the industry remains much the same as it was decades ago – serviced by open air songtaews, converted-pickup trucks that are an icon of Thailand’s rural countryside.

For instant time travel into the past, one only has to take a stroll along Ranong Road near the new municipal fresh market in Phuket Town.

There you will find the island’s songtaew terminal, where you can board one of these contraptions to take you to just about any part of the island for 20 to 40 baht.

“The songtaew queue system at the market has been the same for more than twenty years,” explained Aroon Sinkala, a 59-year-old songtaew driver who has plied Phuket roadways since the early 1970s.

Around 1987, the Transport Company introduced a regular and orderly queuing system for songtaews to accommodate the budding tourism industry.

“Before that, I couldn’t park my songtaew at the market,” he said, explaining that public transport in Phuket at that time was dictated solely by self-proclaimed “territorial rights”.

Aroon doesn’t miss the chaos of the 1970s and 1980s, when the Phuket economy was still based largely on tin mining.

As he recalls the situation songtaew drivers faced back then, what he describes sounds a lot like the dilemma facing present-day tuk-tuk and taxi consortia on the island.

“Since there were no regular queues or [price] regulation back then, fights between drivers over customers were common and could turn quite vicious and bloody,” he said.

“It was every man for himself and you really had to struggle to make ends meet,” he added.

“Today, vehicles depart on schedule every 10 to 15 minutes. We drivers must stick to the schedule because if we’re late, we’ll get penalized,” he said, adding that any dispute between drivers today is settled by a special committee.

“If a problem can’t be settled between drivers, both will get an automatic suspension [from driving]” he explained.

Asked whether he had ever been suspended, he confessed that he had. “Not long after a committee was established [at about the same time the Ranong Road queue started] I had a dispute with another driver because I didn’t stick to the schedule and left late.

“When the other driver caught up with me, he was angry because there were no passengers, since they all boarded my songtaew first. We had a fight and both got suspended for five days. I never had the same problem or got suspended after that,” he said.

“Rules and regulations are necessary in the transport industry and things are much better with them now,” he added.

Aroon admits that some things were better in the old days, however.

“I remember when a liter of fuel cost 2 to 3 baht for diesel and 7 baht for regular petrol. And there was no traffic at all like today, so it was a lot less stressful to drive,” he recalled.

However, he pointed out that the slower-moving traffic and better road conditions make driving much safer than before.

“Luckily I haven’t been involved in any major accidents myself, but I’ve witnessed a lot of fatal accidents. Most of them were caused by people in a rush who are driving too fast,” he said.

“Thepkrasattri Road used to be only two lanes, with no median strip. There were often head-on collisions. When it rained, the road often flooded and it was dangerous and difficult to drive on.”

“Occasionally there are accidents when speeding motorists hit us from behind when we stop to pick up passengers or let them off. Luckily nothing too serious has happened though,” he said.

Like any form of mass transport, commuters are less enthusiastic about using it during rush hours and tend to prefer driving themselves rather than compete for space in a crowded songtaew. But the peak hours are when the drivers can rake in the most money.

“More passengers means more money. The schedule is rotated to keep things fair, so our daily income varies. It’s enough to get by though,” he said.

Aroon went on to talk about a time when songtaew driving alone was not enough to get by.

“The economy was bad and it became difficult to make ends meet. By 2002, I sold my songtaew and got a new job driving a passenger van for Phuket FantaSea in Kamala. I started off earning about 7,500 baht per month, which included health insurance. After several years driving the van I was making nearly 9,000 baht per month. It was good to have a steady income,” he said.

“I decided to take a small house loan for what would be my first and last house. The loan was only for a few hundred thousand baht, and the house was small but simple enough for me, my wife and two sons. However I couldn’t afford to pay the monthly interest on the loan and defaulted within the first year. The house was repossessed. In 2009, I couldn’t continue driving for FantaSea because I was of retirement age.”

Instead of receiving a monthly pension, he chose the option to receive one lump sum payout.

With that money and some other savings, he bought his current songtaew and continued to drive the Sarasin route, just like he did before.

— Steven Layne

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Thai Life

Finance Ministry wants to give 1,500 baht to each domestic traveller

The Thaiger & The Nation

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Finance Ministry wants to give 1,500 baht to each domestic traveller | The Thaiger

The Finance Ministry says they are launching a new stimulus package to boost the country’s domestic tourism by giving Thais 1,500 baht each to spend when they travel to 55 provinces under the promotion campaign.

Under the campaign, Thais aged 18 and over can register for the program. The government will then deposit 1,500 baht into their accounts though the e-payment system. They can use the funds to make e-payments the shops that have joined the project.

“We are collaborating with the Tourism and Sport Ministry and Krung Thai Bank for the campaign and have set a budget of up to 15 billion baht. We will now propose the program to the deputy PM Somkid Jatusripitak and the cabinet to consider as soon as possible. We aim to launch the campaign before July this year,” a source from the Finance Ministry said.

The ministry expects up to 10 million Thais to register for the program, he added.

SOURCE: The Nation

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Bangkok

Bangkok named most popular city for Japanese tourists

Kritsada Mueanhawong

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Bangkok named most popular city for Japanese tourists | The Thaiger

Thai PM Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha says he was happy after hearing that Bangkok was named the most popular destination for Japanese tourists during their Golden Week, a five-day long holiday which begins in late April.

The survey was conducted by Agoda, the online booking platform. Pattaya and Phuket were also ranked among the most popular destinations at #4 and #10 respectively.

“Japanese tourists are among the top 5 nationalities of foreign tourists visiting Thailand, particularly Bangkok where there are many beautiful attractions, delicious food, not-too-high cost of living, and friendly Thai people. The two countries’s cultures are also quite similar. They can go along quite well,” said a spokesperson for the PM.

Lt Gen Werachon Sukondhapatipak, the deputy spokesman of the Thai government, added that the PM loves to follow the updates on the tourism industry. Thai tourists love to escape the summer heat in Thailand, and visit Japan to experience the Japanese spring, visit popular tourist locations, sample authentic Japanese food and the Japanese people. The PM also invited the Thai people to be a good hosts, making all tourists feel welcome and helping keep them safe.

SOURCE: National News Bureau of Thailand

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Bangkok

Bangkok luxury poised to push through the US$300 ceiling

Bill Barnett

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Bangkok luxury poised to push through the US$300 ceiling | The Thaiger

by Bill Barnett of c9hotelworks.com

PHOTOS: Rosewood Bangkok

For hotel owners and managers in South East Asia, one of the great mysteries of the past ten years has been the low rate profile of Bangkok’s luxury hotel set. Despite soaring and sustained tourism growth, rising airlift and a strong economy, rates at Bangkok’s top tier properties have remained fairly stagnant.

Have we reached the tipping point?

I had had the opportunity to visit the latest entry to the Bangkok luxury class a few days ago, the Rosewood. With 159 keys which includes a limited number of posh houses with private pools and terraces the property is seeing an exceptional response and already achieving high rates.

What’s impressive about the entry is a take on the design approach that sees hotel developers apply a non-uniform approach with AvroKO coming in to focus on the restaurants and bars, while the rooms and public areas were led by Celia Chu Design and Associates.

While the speakeasy Lennon’s has not be opened yet, the 6,000 record vinyl collection is impressive and the bar will clearly have a strong pull. Taking the approach to designing restaurants and not typical hotel outlets, the Chinese eatery Nan Bei is a breath of fresh air and limited seating provides a bespoke appeal.

Taking a step back, and looking at recent entries like the Waldorf Astoria, and upcoming 101 key Capella, what is clear is luxury properties are shifting in terms of key drivers of the segment of art, fashion, residential vibe, bar and restaurant offerings, wellness and events.

So, what about rates?

On a broad basis Bangkok’s top tier hotels have averaged rates of US$200-240 for the past few years. This set has seen longer serving properties such as the St. Regis, Kempinski, and Okura effectively flatline on rates, though newer entries have come up including the Park Hyatt. On the broader horizon is the return of the Four Seasons and Capella by the river and the Orient Express at the MahaNakhon skyscraper.

With the entry of Rosewood driving rates, my expectation is that a few of the set will follow and at the end of 2019 we will set limited number of hotels crash through the US$300 average room rate barrier and effectively smash the legacy glass ceiling of Bangkok’s luxury hotels.

As in any business there will be winners and losers. Smaller hotels with some rate leading premium key types will be able to push up average daily rates. Segmentation is another key and hotels on the river that lack substantial corporate numbers will remain challenged until transport links to the area improve.

Where in the world are Bangkok luxury hotels heading?

To sum up 2019, size and location matter, the shift on food and beverage and social events along with niches like wellness and  smaller meetings/weddings are the key to the future. As for the quantum leap in rates, it’s about time Bangkok hoteliers be confident and push rates towards a more global norm.

Bangkok luxury poised to push through the US$300 ceiling | News by The Thaiger

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