Mr Chanchai will not be on the island to enjoy it, because as of October 14 he has been the director of the HR department at TAT headquarters in Bangkok. He had been in Phuket for just 13 months.
“I’m sad to leave. I like Phuket, but I’m happy that the TAT and Phuket Governor Maitree Intusut were so receptive to one of my main ideas, which was to introduce new markets.”
When The Phuket News first interviewed Mr Chanchai, shortly after he assumed the post in 2012, he said that he saw huge potential in Phuket, as an island that could offer visitors various hitherto untapped options, such as being an international destination for weddings, honeymoons and golfing.
During his tenure however, Mr Chanchai changed tack a little, and now says that TAT’s plans for the island in 2014 include focusing on other so called “high yield” markets, such as the yachting and marina industries, medical tourism, and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) market.
The latter was one that was already gathering momentum.
“Although Phuket already has a festival and parade for the LGBT community – Phuket Pride – Glow Phuket want to do something different.”
Mr Chanchai believes that there is no reason why Phuket could not one day host a LGBT event that could rival the spectacular gay pride festivals held in places such as Vancouver, Sao Paulo and Los Angeles – the latter was where he also worked as TAT chief for three years.
“In Los Angeles,” says Mr Chanchai, “The gay parades and festivals are popular with the LGBT and straight community – they’re for everybody.”
The first ever Glow Phuket festival, being held this weekend (October 18-20), is only the start of Phuket TAT’s plans to really start targeting the global LGBT community.
“The LGBT is a high-yield market. We [the TAT] have been talking about targeting the LGBT for a long time, but we’re ready to do it now.”
Mr Chanchai did admit that the decision to focus on this particular market was not taken lightly.
“Many Thai people might be asking why are we supporting and targeting the LGBT community, but it’s good for tourists and tourism.
“Perhaps it wasn’t so much so in the past, but Thai culture is now much more accepting of the LGBT community. In fact, we are quite an accepting culture.”
Part of TAT’s plans to target the LGBT community includes the setting up of gothaibefree.com – designed by an American company – a website designed to provide the LGBT community with information on gay-friendly restaurants, hotels and activities.
“We sent an invitation to high-end resorts in Phuket asking if they wanted to be involved. Many agreed, some didn’t. I think some of the hotels that have high Chinese occupancy might be afraid of this as they might not like it.”
Phuket will form part of a four-pronged attack, alongside Chiang Mai, Pattaya and Bangkok, to target the global ‘pink dollar’ market, and it is Mr Chanchai’s hope that as a result other provinces in Thailand – and perhaps those with less accepting views of the LGBT community – will follow suit.
Mr Chanchai added that as Phuket and the three other Thai cities were already so popular and marketable, it is now the TAT’s plan to shift focus to lesser known destinations.
“We’re trying to emphasise new areas so we will hold off mass marketing Phuket for a few years now in favour of promoting Phang Nga, Krabi and Chiang Rai for example. We’re trying to promote the areas that do not benefit so much from tourism.”
Mr Chanchai added that he hoped the few years of not promoting the island, at least aside from the Glow Phuket event, may give it a chance to rectify some of its problems.
“Phuket has changed a lot, even in the short time I have been here.
“It certainly has had success in numbers, with an almost 20 per cent increase every year for a few years now, but we still have a lot of problems; traffic, too much construction, lack of security for tourists and an airport that’s jammed,” says Mr Chanchai.
A problem that did not exist when Mr Chanchai started, is zero-baht tourism. It is therefore one of TAT’s main objectives to manage visitor numbers, especially among the low-yield markets, he says.
“Zero-baht tourism is something we’re trying to stop, but it something that will happen on the Chinese side. From October 1, it is policy for the Chinese government to monitor where companies are taking tourists, and make sure they stick to the programme and not take them to shops to get commission.”
Speaking in August of last year, Mr Chanchai foresaw this, anticipating the need to attract tourists for the right reasons: “Even if tourists can't spend much money during their trip, they could still be ‘quality’ tourists if they visit Phuket for learning and comprehension tourism.”
He referenced local cultural and traditional events like the PorTor and the Vegetarian Festival, which attract tourists to not only enjoy the experience, but also learn more about the island’s culture.
If visitor numbers at this year’s Vegeterian Festival are any indication of success, then Mr Chanchai’s 2012 pledge certainly seems to have come true. It seems that Phuket’s loss, is Bangkok’s gain.