Phuket, one of the crown jewels of global tourism destinations, has witnessed a commendable rebound in its tourism sector for 2023. The growth trajectory points to an optimistic horizon for the latter half of the year. According to mid-year assessments, both international and domestic flight statistics have shot up by a staggering 75% compared to the entirety of 2022.
Diving deeper into the specifics, Russia and China emerged as dominant players, leading the influx of tourists for the first half of the year, as highlighted by C9 Hotelworks’ latest “Phuket Hotel Market Update.” Following closely are India, Australia, and Kazakhstan, making up the top five foreign tourism contributors.
While hotel occupancy rates have crossed the impressive 70% mark, signalling renewed confidence among visitors, there’s more to the story. Hoteliers are grappling with substantial post-pandemic room rates and recurrent staffing challenges despite many of Phuket’s 2,000+ registered accommodation venues, comprising 106,000 rooms, returning to business.
However, beneath this sheen of recovery, a pressing issue threatens Phuket’s dream run. The island’s infrastructure, battered and strained, is at breaking point. Rapid expansion in resident numbers, a result of the tourism upswing, an escalated property market, and a revived development landscape have precipitated alarming traffic dilemmas that endanger sustainable growth.
Bill Barnett, the Managing Director of C9 Hotelworks, starkly articulates the predicament, predicting a ‘carmageddon’ for the high season of 2023/2024. “A potential traffic impasse could disrupt both residents and tourists severely. The collective inertia over the past decade in bringing pivotal transportation projects to life could have lasting consequences,” warns Barnett.
Projects like the Patong-Kathu tunnel, cross-island expressway, and light rail (LRT) remain stalled. While the current administration has vocalized its intentions to prioritize these projects, the funding conundrum persists. Public-private collaboration models, such as BOT (build-operate-transfer) mechanisms, may offer a viable solution, especially for crucial undertakings like the Andaman International Airport.
As the winter peak approaches, there’s palpable anxiety within the tourism industry, primarily stemming from the muted return of Chinese visitors despite visa exemptions. Thailand’s image in this pivotal market requires rejuvenation. However, the silver lining emerges from strong demand pockets like Russia, Kazakhstan, and India, coupled with the regular influx of ‘snow bird’ travellers.
Concluding on a note of urgency, Barnett emphasizes, “The makeshift solutions by the public sector are no longer viable. Phuket’s transformation into an esteemed global destination necessitates a comprehensive strategy to address and overhaul its flagging infrastructure.”
Written by: Supaporn Pholrach (Joom)