A big increase in Chinese and Russian tourists has transformed the popular resort island of Phuket into a shopping destination.
The two nationalities accounted for 38% of arrivals to Phuket last year, while more than 3 million visitors from China and Russia visited Thailand as a whole.
A report by the consultancy C9 Hotelworks said the largest spending by tourists in Phuket was for accommodation (30%), followed by shopping (24%).
Chinese, Russian and Australian visitors were the top spenders at leading shopping centres.
Spending by foreign tourists averaged US$108 (3,200 baht) per person per day, three times that of domestic travellers.
Bill Barnett, the managing director of C9 Hotelworks, said the Thai resort market is becoming an urbanised playground on the back of the rising Asian middle class and the resurgence in travel.
"It's not just about the beach any more, with shopping and attractions also driving demand." he said.
Last month, Central Retail Corporation announced a $332-million project in Phuket comprising a mega entertainment centre, luxury fashion shops and a convention centre.
"It's not good or bad for Phuket to be a shopping destination, but simply a natural shift from a more rural island to an urban area that reflects the increasing appeal of consumerism. It is not a Phuket trend but a global trend," Mr Barnett said.
Although Chinese and Russian tourists are making their mark on Phuket, Scandinavians remain keen to escape their harsh winter for a long break in Phuket.
Tourists on charter flights from Scandinavia come to Thailand because of the sun and good value, Mr Barnett said.
Last year, inbound and outbound passengers for both the domestic and the international sectors totalled 9.5 million in Phuket. This growth of 13% from 2011 reflected an excess of 47% over the airport's stated capacity.
From 2004-12, visitor arrivals at Phuket airport grew at a compound annual rate of 9%.
The hotel occupancy rate in Phuket last year was estimated at 76%, with an average room rate of $142 per night.
More than 4,000 new hotel rooms will become available from 2013-16.
The top five international source markets for the island-province accounted for 60% of all tourists last year, up from 56% in 2011.
They were China (22%), Russia (15%), Australia (10%), South Korea (9%) and Malaysia (4%).
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- Writer: Chadamas Chinmaneevong