Attendees at a meeting yesterday were told Phuket’s tourism slump could be reversed if tickets on domestic flights are made cheaper and enough direct international flights to the resort island are reinstated.
Tourism stagnation in Phuket caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was the subject of a meeting between stakeholders at Thai Airways International (THAI) head office in Bangkok.
Top officials and leading executives of the Phuket provincial office, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the Department of Consular Affairs (DCA), the Phuket Tourist Association (PTA), THAI, and THAI Smile Airways took part.
Phuket governor Narong Woonciew told the meeting a balance must be struck between quarantine restrictions and permitting the economy to move ahead.
Stimulating domestic tourism to offset the loss of revenue from foreign visitors has produced satisfactory results. About 200,000 visitors arrived in Phuket last month, according to the province’s estimate.
Domestic visitors are buoying Phuket’s tourism industry. However, there would have been more tourists if airfares, particularly during weekends, were not so expensive, the governor said.
Mr Woonciew said airlines should add more flights with the expectation that it could lower the ticket prices.
But for the tourism industry to survive and thrive again, more international visitors are needed. The meeting discussed reinstating direct flights from European countries whose nationals make up the traditional mainstay of long-stay visitors to Phuket.
The air links which should be given priority are those from Frankfurt and Copenhagen to Phuket with onward flights to Bangkok.
Sirikorn Chiewsamut, deputy governor of the TAT, said travel demand for Phuket remains strong in some international tourist segments despite the 14-day mandatory quarantine regulation.
Although international arrivals are nowhere near the pre-COVID level at the start of the year, a return of direct commercial flights will help revive flagging tourism, the meeting was told.
Chaturon Chaiyakam, deputy director-general of the DCA, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has relaxed restrictions in granting tourist visas. Previously, tight restrictions were in place for visa applications sought by people from countries with rampant infections.
Jesada Chandrema, THAI’s acting vice-president for sales, said the airline has taken note of the calls for resumption of direct scheduled flights to Phuket from Europe. He described the proposal as “interesting and possible”.
THAI announced last month it would relaunch scheduled international flights from 1st January to 27th March. It will operate one flight every Friday to Frankfurt and London, and Sunday flights to Copenhagen and Sydney, in addition to flights to key Asian destinations.
However, the airline has said it will delay resuming domestic flights to Chiang Mai and Phuket from 25th December to 1st January due to a resurgence of COVID-19 infections in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. No local transmissions have been detected in Phuket during this time.
Even though Phuket has reported no transmissions so far, resuming regular flights there and serving a single destination would not be financially viable, the airline said earlier.
Viset Sontichai, acting Chief Commercials Officer of THAI Smile Airways, said the airline is increasing its daily flights to Phuket by three flights, for a total to eight a day, starting from Thursday.
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