Britain's TUI announces London-Phuket direct flight

TUI Travel Plc will launch Britain's first direct flight from London Gatwick to Phuket in November through the firm's Thomson Airways charter service.

A young arrival is greeted by Joe Louis puppets at Suvarnabhumi airport last month. Starting in November, Thomson Airways will offer charter flights from London Gatwick to Phuket, bypassing Suvarnabhumi. SOMCHAI POOMLARD

Peter Long, chief executive of British-based TUI Travel, said Thailand is the largest market for charter flight service in Asia, followed by India and the Maldives.

"We did thorough research to identify which location our customers want to go next," he said. "We want to provide our customers with a unique product offering they can't get with anyone else."

Although Vietnam and Cambodia are emerging markets, Thailand has better infrastructure for chartered aircraft and has evolved from a backpacker paradise to a diversified family destination, said Christian Clemens, head of TUI Germany.

The company expects to carry 7,000 passengers in its first season of the London Gatwick-Phuket flight, later adding cities like Birmingham and Manchester to more destinations in Thailand.

Using Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner, flight time will be cut to 12.5 hours, compared with 14.5 now.

Thomson Airways passengers can fly direct to Phuket, including a 14-night tour package in Thailand, at a starting cost of less than 1,000 (48,930 baht).

Holidaymakers can either stay for three nights in Bangkok coupled with an 11-night stay in Krabi, Khao Lak or Phuket, or opt to connect from Phuket for a seven-night stay in Koh Samui followed by seven nights in Krabi, Khao Lak or Phuket.

If customers want to discover more of Thailand, they can take an eight-night tour with stops at the River Kwai, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and the Mae Salong valleys combined with a six-night beach stay in Phuket, Krabi or Khao Lak.

TUI Travel has formed an alliance with Centara Grand West Sands Resort and Villas Phuket and Sensimar Khaolak Beachfront Resort to offer packages at affordable prices.

Based on company research, the top five destinations in Thailand are Phuket, Krabi, Khao Lak, Bangkok and others combined.

As the company has a large network in Europe, it has brought 200,000 German tourists and 110,000 tourists from the Nordic countries.

TUI Travel had revenue of 15 billion and an operating profit of 490 million in 2012, with a fleet of 141 aircraft and 3,500 retail shops throughout Europe.

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