Phuket tourism chief leads fight against economic doldrums

Phuket tourism chief leads fight against economic doldrums

No stone being left unturned in bid to bring back visitors

President of the Phuket Tourist Association Bhummikitti Ruktaengam has outlined his vision to bring back tourists to the island which has suffered one of the worst economic impacts in the country from the global Covid-19 pandemic.

As de facto leader of the tourism sector in the province, Mr Bhummikitti has spearheaded the tourism-dependent province's efforts to revive its local economy, ranging from loosening restrictions for foreign travellers to offering direct flights between major foreign cities and Phuket.

Before the pandemic, 90% of Phuket's annual tourism income of 470 billion baht was generated by foreign visitors.

Mr Bhummikitti was the one who urged the government to open Phuket International Airport to foreign visitors, after the province's tourism sector registered a loss of around 180 billion baht from January to May 2020.

Now he is playing an even greater role after helping to mastermind the "Phuket Model", which has already been submitted to the prime minister.

The model consists of Testing, Tracing and Trading. By Testing, it means all foreign visitors entering the province must be tested for the virus while Tracing means they will be tracked after arrival.

As for Trading, the model proposes that opening up Phuket to foreign visitors must also depend on the province's public health capacity in terms of emergency medical services and ICU beds in the hospitals.

The provincial private sector also proposed a travel bubble scheme to allow Chinese tourists to visit Phuket starting with its famous Chinese vegetarian festival in October this year.

In November, Phuket made the headlines by arranging a trip for foreign diplomats and their spouses from 15 countries to visit various attractions in the province. The project is expected to expand to include expats in Thailand.

The availability of direct flights is another key contributor to an increase in foreign tourist arrivals in the province.

On Dec 9, Mr Bhummikitti, representatives of the private sector and the governor of Phuket met with Thai Airways International and Thai Smile Airways to discuss a plan to provide direct flights to Phuket from European countries, in particular Scandinavian countries, Germany and Switzerland.

The direct flights would bring back Phuket's main groups of tourists who were mostly from Europe, he said.

In the previous four months, most of the foreign tourists allowed in Phuket travelled to the province by private jet or yacht.

Regarding complaints about expensive domestic airfares, Mr Bhummikitti said Thai Smile Airways had decided to increase its daily flights to Phuket by three to in eight in total starting from Dec 24 which could help lower ticket prices, he said.

The association would urgently call on the chief economic adviser to the prime minister to schedule a meeting to set a price ceiling that every airline must take into account when calculating fares, said the president.

The Phuket private sector is also considering providing domestic charter flights from other regions such as the North and Northeast. Thai Smile Airways and the Tourism Authority of Thailand would help with organising marketing and sale activities to promote such flights.

On his outlook for next year's Phuket tourism, Mr Bhummikitti told the Bangkok Post that local transmission would be the main factor determining the tourism sector's recovery.

"If the government can continue to keep the pandemic under control, tourism in Phuket will boom again.

"As for a vaccine, if the distribution of Covid-19 vaccine proceeds according to plan and the vaccine proves to be effective, confidence will greatly improve. The Thai economy will have a higher chance of rebounding and Phuket will benefit from it," he said.

Phuket has set a target of 4.5 million Thai tourist arrivals with a possible increase in foreign visitors.

Regarding overall Phuket tourism from now until the end of 2020, the association president said 30% of all hotels in the province were already open again with an occupancy rate of more than 50% expected over New Year. More than 3,000 hotel rooms have been turned into Alternative Local Quarantine facility.

Mr Bhummikitti was selected as the president of the association for 2018-2020 for the second term. He is also an executive of the Bangkok Hospital Phuket.

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