Netizens hit out at pricey Phuket airfares

Netizens hit out at pricey Phuket airfares

Association chief says evidence suggests carriers are respecting the rules

Phuket airport is illuminated at night. Officials say higher prices align with increased demand.
Phuket airport is illuminated at night. Officials say higher prices align with increased demand.

Social media was awash with comments this week from local travellers bemoaning the high price of airfares to Phuket.

One contributor revealed that airfares offered by low-cost carriers from Bangkok to the Andaman island spiked to around 14,000 baht per trip 2-3 days before the planned departure date, while others said they paid 5,000 baht for a one-way trip to the island despite booking weeks ahead of their scheduled date of travel.

Suksit Suvunditkul, president of the southern chapter of the Thai Hotels Association (THA), said the average prices of airfares and hotels in Phuket have both been consistently increasing since the end of the pandemic.

The price increases have aligned with demand, which surged during the current high season, mainly driven by foreign tourists.

"International tourists were unfazed by high prices as their trips were planned and booked in advance. The airfares are normally combined in the form of connecting flights from Bangkok, so they wouldn't notice how the prices had adjusted on domestic routes," Mr Suksit said.

He said the affected groups were not local leisure tourists, but mainly local business travellers or other people who need to travel domestically.

So far this month, 90% of all travellers to Phuket have been foreign tourists with domestic travellers accounting for just 10%.

The Chinese New Year festivities helped the Chinese market surpass the Russian market for the first time this year, with 66,775 Chinese tourists and 54,908 Russian tourists travelling to Phuket during the period Feb 1-14.

In January, Russian tourists led the inbound market with 130,709 arrivals, while 84,966 Chinese tourists visited the country. In third place was India, with 25,528 tourists visiting Thailand last month.

Mr Suksit said the high season in Phuket typically runs from November to March, with a peak period between December and February which would usually see a spike in airfares and room rates as the festivities would spur tourists to quickly book their tickets and rooms.

He said Chinese and Indian travellers didn't even try to secure a discount as they wished to ensure they celebrate the holidays at the precise time. Most five-star hotels said about 40% of their guests were Chinese nationals during the holiday period.

However, the average price tends to automatically drop after April when demand among both foreign tourists and locals vanishes during the Songkran festival.

According to a provincial tourism report for January, hotels in Phuket had an average occupancy rate of 89.2%, with an average length of stay of 3.66 days per guest. The survey polled 30% of 2,069 hotels, accounting for 111,427 rooms in total.

In the first month of this year alone, tourism in the province secured revenue of 64.5 billion baht from around 2 million tourists, both from the domestic and international markets.

Inflated prices

According to the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT), the regulated ceiling price for the 698-kilometre one-way trip from Bangkok to Phuket is set at 6,561 baht for low-cost carriers, and 9,074 baht for full-service carriers.

Thanet Tantipiriyakit, president of the Phuket Tourist Association, said the tourism sector has been monitoring airfares, but has yet to find any airlines selling their tickets at prices above the ceiling price.

However, if other fees and taxes were included in the calculation, the price may exceed the regulated rate, in which case the airline would not have broken the rules in terms of the ceiling prices as the ceiling rate does not include additional expenses, he said.

"I still believe that local airlines don't want to get into trouble with CAAT by selling more expensive tickets than the designated rate as it's not worth being penalised," Mr Thanet noted.

He said the prices are particularly high for two reasons, namely the high season and the short lead-time of bookings for 1-2 weeks before departure.

For those who wish to travel in the next 3-4 weeks, the average airfare is still affordable and would gradually decrease following the end of the high season.

At present, Phuket has been able to resume domestic air traffic at the rate of 130 flights per day, which is close the level recorded in 2019.

However, due to a massive influx of tourists, those services are not sufficient to cater to all segments, particularly local businesspeople.

He said more local travellers from Phuket had opted to drive to Krabi or Surat Thani to catch flights from there to Bangkok during the peak season, as the average prices of airfares in these provinces were much lower than those for flights departing Phuket.

Subpar experience

Mr Thanet said the most worrisom problem in the private sector in Phuket is whether the quality of goods and services provided matches the increase in prices.

"There are cases where hotels have overcharged guests by four times compared to their rack rate during a high-demand period. Our concern is that if guests are not treated with good quality services and products, they might not return to Phuket," he said.

He said poor experiences with public infrastructure would also discourage tourists, if they felt that such services are not providing value for money.

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