Phuket adopts more affordable posture

Phuket adopts more affordable posture

Handful of operators open for business

Ms Methinee says soft loans and repayment suspensions are crucial for operators' survival. (Photo by Dusida Worrachaddejchai)
Ms Methinee says soft loans and repayment suspensions are crucial for operators' survival. (Photo by Dusida Worrachaddejchai)

Plunging travel demand from the international market has forced operators in Phuket to focus on potential domestic travellers and offer affordable products, aiming to smooth the province's reputation as an expensive destination.

Virintra Papakityotsaphant, managing director of Nikorn Marine Group, a Phuket-based tour operator, as well as president of the Phuket Travel Agents Association, said only 10% of 60 members are open for business in the domestic market.

The customers are mostly health volunteers and officials from sub-district hospitals that are part of the government's stimulus scheme.

Nikorn Marine arranged luxury yacht services for medical personnel from Trang, Krabi, Phatthalung, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Surat Thani and Phangnga to Phuket.

The company wants to extend its target market to those in the northeastern and northern regions.

Even though the business cannot gain a profit from a limited travel budget of 2,000 baht per tourist, at least the company can create jobs and send off boats after a long pause at the dock, she said.

There are 20 groups with 1,000 visitors that booked trips this month. The company expects to welcome 3,000 visitors as part of the government campaign, which runs through Oct 31.

Nikorn Marine streamlined operations by reducing the number of staff to 100 from 300 before the outbreak hit and put workers on a leave-without-pay scheme for 15 days per month.

As Phuket is spearheading the pilot project to welcome back international tourists, Ms Virintra suggested the government work to build up local confidence to ensure Thai travellers keep coming to Phuket once the borders are reopened.

"Given that the global virus situation is fluid and the race for a vaccine is still uncertain, the local market will likely play a vital role for the next two years," she said.

Methinee Rodsawek, vice-president and managing director of Skyworld Adventures, which operates Hanuman World, an outdoor adventure zipline park, said soft loans and repayment suspensions are crucial measures to help operators stay afloat during the tourism downturn.

The Bank of Thailand must extend the debt holiday until the fourth quarter or the company will not have enough cash flow to stay open until year-end, she said.

Ms Methinee said the company implemented a cost reduction plan, such as reducing the workdays of 200 employees at Hanuman World to 15 days a month because of weak demand.

The number of visitors to Hanuman World is 100-200 per day during weekends, but dropped by half during weekdays, compared with 600-700 visitors, of which 70% were international tourists in the pre-pandemic period.

The company is offering local market safety measures and promotions to attract more Thai residents, including 50% discounts for activities.

She said operators are ready to welcome international tourists and people outside the tourism industry have to understand reopening will create jobs and help support local income.

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