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Phuket looks back to Europe for tourism boost

Key Phuket tourism figures have launched a drive to reinvigorate tourist interest in Phuket and ramp up tourism arrivals from a much wider base of source markets, including Europe and the Middle East. The campaign gained momentum last month with the Sept 21 opening of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) office in Prague to tap the growing potential of the rapidly emerging markets in the Czech Republic and its neighbouring countries. The opening was officiated in person by TAT Governor Yuthasak Supasorn and TAT Board Chairman Kalin Sarasin. Headed by Wiyada Srirangkul, the office is responsible for promoting tourism from the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine. “As part of a new focus on ‘quality’ visitors, we are targeting long-staying, high-spending visitors, especially from ‘new markets’. That is what makes the Prague office so important to our new strategy,” Mr Yuthasak said, Between 2012 to 2015, visitors from Central Europe grew from about 203,540 to 342,900, at an annual average growth rate of 12.85 per cent. The Czech Republic rose from 35,909 in 2014 to almost 38,998 in 2015, an increase of 8.6%. “In 2016, we are projecting 379,000 visitors from this region overall. Our key target markets will be first-time visitors,” Mr Yuthasak said. Less than a week after the opening of the Prague office, leading Phuket tourism figures staged a tourism trade roadshow in France. Leading the France roadshow tour, from Sept 26-30, were key members from the Phuket Tourist Association (PTA), which held the trade tour in collaboration with the Phuket Provincial Administration Organisation (PPAO). Present as part of the roadshow to table tourism trade deals to Phuket were hotel operators, tour companies, airline companies, spa operators and Muay Thai boxing camp operators. “September is the best time to do a roadshow because it is approaching winter there, when the French will start travelling abroad again,” explained PTA President Sathirapong Na Takuatoong. The roadshow was held in three cities: Nice, Lyon and Paris. “We selected these cities because they have the highest number of tourists visiting Thailand each year,” Mr Sathirapong said. “Our records show that over about the past year around 300,000 tourists to Thailand came from Paris, with another 80,000 coming from Lyon and a further 60,000 from Nice,” he added. Prakit Saiporn, the marketing specialist from the TAT France office, said his office expected a huge jump in the number of French tourists to Phuket. “The number of French tourists visiting Phuket is increasing every year, even in times when the country is in distress. This year we expect to see the number rising to 700,000 people, or about an 8% increase from the previous year,” he said. “In the past, only elderly tourists visited Thailand, usually the northern provinces for cultural insights, but today that has changed. The French tourists who come to Thailand these days are younger, and they love to go the beach, especially in Phuket,” he added. Mr Sathirapong remained buoyant about the current state of Phuket’s inbound tourism, but noted, “Phuket is still looking good in every market, except the Chinese market, which is experiencing a downturn from the zero-dollar tour company issue. However, this is having a small effect on our market because Chinese coming to Phuket are mainly Free Independent Travellers (FITs),” he said. Despite Mr Sathirapong’s positive appraisal of Phuket’s current tourism status, the PTA will drive on with its marketing campaign in Europe and elsewhere beyond Asia. “The roadshow will go on,” confirmed PPAO Councillor Somkid Suphap. “The PTA roadshow will join ITB Asia in Singapore on Oct 19-21 and ITB Berlin on March 9-12 next year. “Also, there will be more roadshows in February targeting FIT groups from China and in April targeting tourists from the UAE, Iran and Qatar,” Mr Somkid said.