The island of Phuket is one of the world's top tourist destinations. However, during the past two years, the local economy has slowed after the pandemic hit the tourism sector, which accounts for 70–80% of Phuket's economic growth.
During the past two years, the provincial administration, private sector and local villagers have put a big effort into bringing back travellers.
Tourism schemes, such as Phuket Sandbox, were created to attract local and foreign tourists.
While the state and private sector have worked to promote Phuket tourism, the image of Phuket has been affected by recent crimes, such as the murder of a Swiss tourist near a waterfall in August, and rip-off attempts by notorious local taxi operators.
Another recent example is the case involving a local thief stealing 200,000 baht from a family of Greek tourists.
Their story was shared by a Thai friend last week to friends and residents. The Greek family had been fans of Phuket who kept returning to the island.
The same week, a local celebrity wrote on his Facebook page, blasting a cab driver for overcharging him for a ride. The celebrity was unable to book a Grab taxi and was told to enlist the service of a local taxi driver.
However, he said he was quoted 600 baht for the ride, as opposed to 168 baht via Grab, prompting a verbal argument.
After news of the incident went viral, police fined the taxi driver 1,000 baht and instructed the driver to attend a hospitality training course.
These reports are only the tip of the iceberg -- many visitors have complained about being overcharged for various services in the province.
The "taxi mafia" and their overcharging practices are a chronic problem that the province has tried to solve. Transport in Phuket is known to be unfairly expensive.
These major problems have tarnished the image of Phuket for ages -- there have been many complaints from foreign tourists falling victim to such illegal operations. People are being overcharged for poor services.
These problems also have drawn criticism from foreigners in social networks. Some say Phuket may be the country's most famous island but it's also the most overrated place in the country.
Phuket is said to be the pearl of the Andaman Sea. This description is not an exaggeration because the island contains beautiful beaches and scenery as well as abundant natural resources.
So, authorities must move forward in solving tourism-related crimes to ensure the safety of visitors.
Without action by officials, the problems will get worse. The government cannot afford to focus solely on marketing campaigns without also taking serious action to solve chronic problems.
The world should have one clear narrative about Phuket: the island safe for tourists.
Meanwhile, when tourists think of Phuket, they should be inclined to think of honesty, superb hospitality services, rich cultural heritage and beautiful natural environments.
Anything less than that will make the government's plan to make Phuket a high-end tourism market just a pipe dream.