World Heritage help sought
Phuket Old Town needs more support from the government to be prepared for evaluation as a World Heritage Site, as the Fine Arts Department plans to submit the city to Unesco for the 2020 list.
Don Limnunthaphisit, president of the Phuket Old Town tourism community, said the city would like to receive a rolling budget each year to support renovations, as do Penang and Malacca, cities in Malaysia on the World Heritage List.
The town does get some funding from the government, but the community is still responsible for most aspects of the renovation process and volunteer efforts may not be enough to achieve World Heritage Site status.
All tourism-related agencies have to take full responsibility for the project of renovating Old Phuket Town, with a concrete plan to help the community continue with the practices, Mr Don said.
"We have been reviving this area for 15 years," he said. "The most preferred destinations for tourists are Patong, Chalong Bay and Promthep Cape, but Old Phuket Town has become well-known over the last two years because of social media."
Locals started to develop community-based tourism starting at the end of 2016 in order to meet the standards of the Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration.
Phuket already won Unesco's Creative City award as the City of Gastronomy in 2015.
Recently, the old city was listed as one of Asia's most picturesque towns by CNN Travel for the outstanding Sino-Colonial architecture and its multicultural heritage.
According to the Tourism and Sports Ministry, from January to July this year 9.05 million tourists visited Phuket, up 0.5% from the same period last year, generating 293 billion baht in revenue, a 6.1% increase year-on-year.
Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, president of the Phuket Tourist Association, said the number of tourist arrivals will increase by 5-7% this year.
"Chinese tourists are expected to stay flat at 3 million this year," he said. "Tourists who travel in groups dropped from 70% to 40%, while the rest of the 60% are independent tourists who tend to visit and spend more on community than group tours."
In the last quarter, the overall occupancy rate in Phuket will reach an estimated 75%, same as last year, while the average occupancy rate for 2019 is 65%.
In the latest report from Mastercard's 2019 Global Destination Cities Index, Phuket ranked seventh out of the 20 top Asia-Pacific destinations in 2018, with 9.9 million overnight international arrivals and an average stay of 4.9 days, up from 9.29 million in 2017.
Phuket remained in 10th place out of 200 global cities, pulling in total tourism spending from international visitors who stayed overnight of US$12.01 billion, up 14.8% year-on-year, with average spending of $247 per day, up from $239 last year.