For many years tourist arrivals from Australia have been a key component of Phuket’s hotel industry, particularly as the antipodean winter coincides with the island’s low season. The problem is Bali!
The recent announcement by Jetstar, the Australian-based, long haul budget airline, that it will increase flights from Sydney to Phuket to five rotations per week during the high season, is welcome news. In terms of tourist arrivals, Phuket has always lagged behind Bali, its major regional competitor for the Australian market.
A 2009 Reader’s Choice Award in Conde Nast Traveler, the bible of the travel business, ranked the top islands in the Asia/Indian Ocean region as the Maldives, Bali and Phuket in that order. Research published in June this year showed that Australians continue to rate Phuket as their second choice, after Bali. A report by Bill Barnett, the Phuket based hotel and property consultant, said in May this year that Bali had profited from the recent Phuket airport closures. This when combined with the ongoing political turmoil in Bangkok, impacts on people’s decisions regarding their choice of holiday destination.
In 2008, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Australians were returning to Bali in record numbers despite a travel advisory issued following the bombings that rocked the Indonesian tourism industry a few years ago. Many Australians died in the Bali bombings.
Comparisons between the two heavyweight destinations have been going on for years. In 2000, the travel magazine Hotel Asia Pacific reported that one reason for Bali’s lead at that time was the greater frequency of direct flights, compared to Phuket, and that Bali also had more top tier hotels.
However, Phuket was ahead in infrastructure development. Over the last eight years, until the airport closures, Phuket appeared to be closing the gap with Bali, which was still subject to suspicion because of the unstable political and security situation. The airport closure in Phuket showed just how vulnerable the island economy is to outbreaks of political unrest. Indonesia, as a result, is now perceived as a safer and more stable country than has been the case in the past. Australians also like Bali because of its closeness, its good surfing and overall facilities.
Phuket’s relative remoteness is offset by the increase in direct flights by the major regional airlines over the last few years, and the growth of budget carriers like Thai Air Asia and Tiger Airways. We’ve also seen the entry of new, smaller competitors like Firefly (Malaysia) and the Phuket-based Happy Air. All-in-all this adds up to a positive future for Phuket in its efforts to wean the Australian tourists from Bali.
What more can Phuket do to get ahead? More high-end accommodation is still needed, and there must be a concerted effort, to stop the tourist scams that blight tourist activities. However most importantly, Thailand needs to achieve political stability.
If these things don’t happen Phuket will continue to attract fewer tourists, particularly from Australia during their winter, which is the Phuket ‘summer’ (low) season.
Alastair Carthew, a Phuket based writer and communications advisor.
This post was written by HKT Homes on December 16, 2009