The Phuket Tourist Association (PTA) will present proposals to the new government for the island's tourism recovery, which aim to restore the 400 billion baht in income that the island enjoyed in 2019.
In an interview with the Bangkok Post, PTA president Thaneth Tantipiriyakij said the association wants the new government to highlight tourism as one of the two main "mechanisms" of the island; the other is exports.
"That said, the new government should concentrate on highlighting tourism policies through every sector by calling on the Tourism Authority of Thailand [TAT], the Culture Ministry and the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau," Mr Thaneth said.
Help for business
The first proposal is for the new government to concentrate on tools and budget management to help with the country's competitive ability, as he believes that Thailand is not the only country that uses tourism as its main way of attracting foreigners.
"We want the public sector to have policies that support potential tourism entrepreneurs, such as issuing certificates that can be used as a "one-stop service' for any activities, including on-field seminars," Mr Thaneth said.
Clean energy in the tourism industry and encouraging tourism-related international cooperation are also important.
The association also proposes policies which are air travel-friendly, such as an increase in flight routes, destinations, and seating.
Nai Harn Beach in tambon Rawai of Muang district, Phuket. (Photo: Sarot Meksophawannakul)
Mr Thaneth said the main source of island tourism will always be foreigners arriving in the country by plane, no matter what the marketing strategy for tourism is like.
"Our question is how the government convinces international carriers wanting to base themselves here that Thai national carriers are not strong enough to hit the global market," said Mr Thaneth.
He used Thai Airways International (THAI) as an example. He said it is unfortunate that THAI decided to cut the number of direct flights from 14 a week during the government's Sandbox project last year to few to none in recent weeks.
"It was sad to learn that there might be a week where no THAI flights land here even though other carriers from small countries, such as Kazakhstan, Israel, and Mongolia, do," he added.
The island's basic infrastructure development is another item in the proposal, he said, saying he really wants to see the new government improve public infrastructure, especially road transport.
"Phuket has only one main road on the island, and the mass transport system is not good enough," he said.
Even though at least 10 million tourists visited the island in 2019, Mr Thaneth said some problems with public transport and local taxi drivers still exist.
The new proposals are aimed at generating tourism revenue of around 400 billion baht, which Phuket achieved in 2019, he said.
"As the governor [Narong Woonciew] told us, problems in Phuket mean global problems," he said.
The most important item in the proposal is the island's prospects of hosting the Specialised Expo 2028, to be held from March 21 to June 20, 2028, if selected.
The association wants the government to help local authorities, the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), the Public Health Ministry, and the Foreign Affairs Ministry to work on expo promotion.
The new government should concentrate on highlighting tourism policies through every sector, says Thaneth Tantipiriyakij, Phuket Tourist Association presdent.
He expects the expo to be the starting point for infrastructure development, such as ferry boat extensions, airport extensions and the Wellness and Medical Hub Centre at Vajira Phuket Hospital.
Regarding the chances of being selected by the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) panel, Mr Thaneth said he felt confident, saying he had met the BIE's president, Choi Jai-chul, who visited Phuket after the panel's appointment.
"Mr Choi said the island is suitable for the expo. However, he said he had only one vote, and the result will depend on other members of the panel as well," Mr Thaneth said.
The association is waiting for the island's elected MPs to have a discussion on meeting the prime minister to discuss the tourism policy.
However, it is not only the PTA that is interested in discussions with the new government.
Visitor numbers fall
Suksit Suvunditkul, president of the southern chapter of the Thai Hotels Association, said he expected the government to support campaigns related to sustainable tourism and policies regarding liquor sales.
"The public sector needs to put more focus on both problems as tourism recovers," said Mr Suksit.
He also wanted the public sector to support hospitality upskilling, as hotels on the island had to welcome an increasing number of tourists and people attending seminars as well.
Surachat Eiwsakul, chairman of the Young Entrepreneurs Chamber of Commerce in Phuket (YEC), also wanted the new government to support entrepreneurs and SMEs on the island.
"We want them to support the campaign that helped upskill them," he added.
Mr Thaneth also talked to the Bangkok Post about the current tourism situation on the island, which is in the low season. Tourist numbers have fallen markedly, he said, citing lower-than-expected hotel reservation rates of 40–50% from both domestic and foreign visitors.
One of the main reasons is the start of the new school year, while foreign groups that had been one of the island's targets, such as Chinese and Indian tourists, have fallen due to domestic issues in their home countries.
"We had expected an improvement in the number of Thai visitors after the pandemic, and we have not hit our target yet," said Mr Thaneth.
There are many upcoming activities of interest for visitors, including surfing competitions at Hat Kata and Hat Karon in July. "We've set this month to be the surfing season for the island," he added.