Tourism operators in Phuket are urging airlines to slash their prices as the island's image as an expensive destination is seen as harming travel opportunities, especially without the huge Chinese market, which accounted for 40% of business before the pandemic.
Thanet Tantipiriyakit, president of the Phuket Tourist Association, said local travellers remained a vital market for the tourism industry as the international market has not yet fully recovered, largely because of muted demand in China.
He said local tourists accounted for the largest number of airport arrivals, at around 8,000-9,000 passengers per day, while there are currently around 4,000 foreign arrivals per day, down from more than 5,000 earlier this month.
However, the most critical obstacle for domestic travellers at the moment is expensive airfares.
Domestic travellers have the opportunity of visiting neighbouring countries rather than Phuket as the airfares are similar.
"Phuket had been perceived as an expensive destination among local travellers since before Covid-19. Although room rates and the cost of living remain affordable at the moment as hotels are keeping prices low to attract tourists, the expensive airfares will deter them from visiting the island," said Mr Thanet.
He said that without advance bookings, a round-trip fare could cost around 10,000 baht per person.
This rate has an impact on tourists travelling as a group, such as families, as the price of a visit would be inflated.
Mr Thanet said Phuket International Airport has a maximum capacity of 480 inbound and outbound flights per day, but the capacity prior to the pandemic stood at 200-300 flights per day.
Despite Thailand's reopening, the number of flights at the airport currently stands at around 100 flights per day, which means the airport still has slots available for airlines to expand their services in the upcoming high season.
Mr Thanet said the low number of flights was partly due to the lack of international chartered flights from China and Russia, with direct scheduled flights yet to fully resume.
"With a lot of available slots for domestic carriers, we would like them to increase flights to Phuket, which will consequently help reduce the average airfare if there are more seats filling up this market," said Mr Thanet.
He added that the flooding situation in the province had now eased, following downpours at the weekend. While parts of Phuket had taken a heavy toll, most of the island's beaches remained intact.