PHUKET: Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Deputy Executive Director ASEAN, South Asia and South Pacific Region, Kulpramote Wannalert delivered an interesting presentation on “TAT’s Tourism Plan and Updates during the COVID-19 pandemic for Expats living in Thailand” at the Australian-Thai Chamber of Commerce (AustCham Thailand) Joint Chambers Phuket Briefing and Sundowners at Le Méridien Phuket Beach Resort, south of Patong, on Friday (Sept 18).
Ms Kulpramote highlighted what efforts are being made by the TAT’s 80-odd international offices around the globe to increase confidence among potential tourists to choose Thailand as a holiday destination once international travel resumes.
Ms Kulpramote also explained what role the TAT was fulfilling in helping to boost domestic tourism, especially provinces such as Phuket whose residents heavily depend on tourism just to make ends meet. Especially highlighted was the domestic expat market, for which the TAT was seeking suggestions from expats themselves on what they would like to see offered in order to inspire or encourage them to travel within the country.
Here it seems appropriate to remind people that the TAT’s job is to promote Thailand to the world, that is where their expertise lies, not to promote Thailand to Thais, or even expats living in Thailand. That is the purview of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, not the TAT. Yet, here they are assisting best they can in the current crisis.
In Phuket, the local TAT office headed by the much experienced, well respected and soon-to-retire Napasorn Kakai has launched two excellent campaigns that have not been given much exposure at all. The first is the PhuketGreatTime.com web platform where all tourism-related businesses can promote discounted packages to tourists, for free.
The second campaign intelligently targets potential Thai tourists by simply offering a B500 voucher to any arrival from outside Phuket who presents evidence of booking a room on the island for at least one night. That may not sound much, but it certainly is enough to help Thais living within driving distance of Phuket to decide whether to come to the island for a day or two.
While the national government is bandying about billions in the name of boosting domestic tourism, campaigns like this can deliver a healthy return for island residents for a relatively small outlay for a government agency. Such tourists will not be spending much, but it encourages many to come and spend a little, and Thais on short-drive getaways always bring their friends.
Such a simple campaign also strikes at the heart of Phuket’s biggest problem in attracting Thai tourists. For far too many years a holiday in Phuket has been too expensive for most Thais to enjoy. The island’s image among Thais as expensive is well on the government’s agenda, and even local business leaders have sought help from the government in redressing that problem.
While The Phuket News is open to criticsing the government where need be, this problem is for Phuket to fix. How is anyone going to convince people that Phuket is not expensive when social media will let visitors tell everyone themselves exactly how expensive it is to visit here.
Patong Mayor Chalermluck Kebsup understands the issue. For the launch of the Seafod & Gastronomy Festival in Patong last month, she managed to get tuk-tuk drivers in Patong to provide transport for people travelling from the designated car park areas to the festival for just B20. As photos of the conversation between Mayor Chalermluck and the tuk-tuk cartel leaders showed, the concept took quite a bit of explaining, but it was finally understood. Drop your prices or try to last even longer without domestic tourists.
Yet as pointed out in a comment on a story by The Phuket News, under the government-endorsed official taxi fares, the round-trip fare from the airport to Rawai and back again right now will cost more than the airfare from say Bangkok to Phuket. A Thai living on the island also pointed out in a comment how a friend visiting from Bangkok was charged B200 to travel just two kilometres by tuk-tuk in Patong.
Phuket has many, many problems to fix, but if people in Phuket want to start attracting Thai tourists, at the very least this must change.