SMASH IT! Phuket kicks off Thailand’s tourism recovery with sports focus

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Phuket is playing a leading role in the recovery of travel and tourism in Thailand, by using major sporting events and outdoor activities to woo overseas guests back to the kingdom, a high-energy webinar has heard.Held on 9th November 2021, “SMASH IT” was a dynamic virtual event that heard from key players in Phuket’s sports tourism sector, including organisers, operators, hoteliers and more. Co-hosted by C9 Hotelworks, Delivering Asia Communications and Laguna Phuket, the session heard how this exciting sector is set to surge in the coming months and years, as visitors seek healthier ways to live. See full webinar here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hShEwdSZvqc

Sports tourism has played a major role in putting Phuket on the global map, with major annual events such as the Laguna Phuket Marathon and Laguna Phuket Triathlon. But while COVID-19 dealt a severe blow to the travel industry, sport is providing an opportunity for the island to fight back.

The webinar’s keynote speaker, Dr. Nittaya Kerdjuntuk, Director of the Sports Authority of Thailand, revealed how the launch of the innovative Phuket Sandbox programme in July 2021 gave the island “first-mover advantage” and allowed it to capitalise on the return of sporting events. These include the Asian beach volleyball championships at the end of November, two Asian Tour golf tournaments in November and December, and the world under-19 and under-21 beach volleyball championships in December, all of which will be shown on TV in a minimum of 37 countries.

“As Phuket was the first province in Thailand to open to international tourists, it has been able to attract not only tourists, but also events,” Dr. Nittaya explained. “This was a great starting point as it helped us to initiate and plan many events. By keeping everything within the Sandbox we can work in line with specific [health and safety] measures. This really helped us to bring sporting events back to the country.”

Paul Wilson, Group Director of Laguna Phuket, the fully-integrated leisure destination spanning 1,000 acres on Phuket’s central west coast, agreed that hosting major sporting tournaments can help Phuket regain visitor confidence.

“Televised events are a great destination marketing tool and put Phuket front-of-mind for sports fans,” he said. “I think there’s huge potential for mass participation events. To be part of that whole experience, the energy and buzz – people crave that. From our virtual events over the last 18 months, we’ve seen that the demand is there. We definitely think that international destination events will come back stronger than ever in future.”

Golf is set to be an important driver of the tourism recovery. Phuket already boasts some of Asia’s finest courses and Mark Siegel, founder of GolfAsian, explained that the sport has many attributes that make it attractive for post-pandemic travel – both for the players and the destinations.

“The nature of the sport, with wide open spaces and no big crowds, is almost made for this situation. Golf tourists generally come in groups of between four and 20 people, and they’re probably spending on average 10,000 to 15,000 baht (US$225-337) per day. They’re coming from long-haul markets such as Australia, US and Europe and typically staying for ten days to two weeks. They may stay in Phuket for their entire trip and play a variety of courses. Golf prices have dropped a lot recently, which will make Thailand hard to beat,” Mark stated.Moving forward, Phuket is planning to move beyond traditional sports, and embrace new trends. Leading the way is Blue Tree Phuket, a comprehensive leisure destination with facilities for cliff jumping, ziplining, martial arts, skateboarding, beach games and more. Henk Sijtsma, the complex’s Commercial Director, said that he is seeing a desire for “fun” experiences that attract younger people. “We are seeing activities such as skating making a major comeback,” he said.

Co-organiser and C9 Hotelworks Managing Director Bill Barnett concluded: “Phuket pre-pandemic over the past two decades firmly established itself as a leader in big sports events such as marathons and triathlons. Covid-19 has seen a rite of passage, with Tokyo Olympic medalists using it as a pre-event training destination and now we are seeing incoming international events like beach volleyball championships return this year. The Phuket Sandbox laid a firm foundation for proof of concept for International travel and now there is a strong first mover advantage to kickstart the sector.

SMASH IT was part of a series of virtual hospitality events by C9 Hotelworks and Delivering Asia Communications, intended to create forward-looking conversations, promote a critical rethink of the industry and offer learnings across a wide variety of subjects. The event also heard expert insights from Roman Floesser, CEO of GAA Events, and Andy Treadwell, CEO of Verventia.

For more information about Laguna Phuket, please visit www.lagunaphuket.com.