As many as 28 flights arriving or departing Phuket International Airport were cancelled over Jan 3-4 heading into last weekend.
However, both Tourism and Sports Phuket Office Director Sirawee Waloh and Phuket Tourist Association (PTA) Vice President Sarayuth Mallam have insisted to The Phuket News this week that the effect was negligible.
Both assured The Phuket News that tour operators had “made their own arrangements” to ensure that “tourism was not affected”.
“Tour operators just re-organised their tours to arrive on different flights. I spoke with operators about this at the time and they realised the situation and were willing to manage it by themselves,” Mr Sarayuth said.
“I don’t think there has been any major impact on the tourism industry in Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi, including Phi Phi (Island),” Mr Sarayuth added.
“I think the situation was handled very well and the steps taken to prevent disaster has instilled confidence among tourists in travelling to Phuket,” he added.
While Phuket dodged major disruptions to its keystone tourism industry as tropical storm Pabuk passed by, the safety precaution of banning all boats from leaving port last Friday and Saturday (Jan 4-5) did take its toll on the local marine tour operators and commercial fishing fleet.
Phuket Governor Phakaphong Tavipatana last Thursday morning (Jan 3) initially issued a ban on all boats under 12 metres in length from putting to sea amid concerns of strong wind waves reaching up to three metres tall, in line with a directive issued by Phuket Marine Office Acting Chief Wiwat Chitchertwong less than 24 hours earlier.
However, by last Thursday afternoon, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha overrode that directive by banning all boats from putting to sea along the Andaman Coast for safety concerns. The ban was not lifted until midnight Saturday night.
Arun Iamimsamran, General Manager at Rassada Pier, Phuket’s major departure point for all boats heading to nearby islands, including Phi Phi Island, estimated that the ban had cost local tour and ferry boat operators some B6 million in lost revenues over the two days.
“We have six companies operating round trip ferries from Phuket to nearby islands, totalling about 20 round trips per day. We also have five speedboats companies and three dive tour companies operating out of Rassada Pier,” he said.
“In total, they have reported a loss of about B3 million per day over the two days,” Mr Arun said.
“Of course that does not include lost revenues suffered by sales at tour counters, small shops and taxi drivers who all work at the pier, which had no customers over the two days,” he added.
Mr Arun said he and the tour operators all agreed that closing the piers during the impending storm weather was a necessary precaution for safety, but also called on the government to better oversee the safe evacuation of tourists from many of the smaller islands, not just the major destinations of Phi Phi Island and Racha Island, south of Phuket.
"Many other tourists were stuck on small islands near Phuket, not only Phi Phi Island,” Mr Arun said.
“Officials have to think more carefully about this. Representatives from two major tour boat operators went to raise this issue with the Governor,” he added.
Meanwhile, Acting Phuket Fisheries Chief Paisal Sukhapunnapun told The Phuket News that the commercial fishing fleet, also grounded during the Pabuk weather ban, lost more than a B1 million a day in lost catches over the two days.
“I agree that the ban should have been introduced for safety, even if it did cost some operators lost revenues. Safety must be the top priority for the captains and the crews, and not leave them to face such weather conditions,” he said.
“Our calculations estimate that the commercial fishing fleet as a whole lost about B1mn a day, but this does not include the revenues lost by smaller fishermen who directly supply smaller fresh markets,” Mr Paisal said.
The halt in commercial fishing did have an unforeseen effect: the total haul registered last Sunday – after the two-day ban was lifted – was triple that of the Thursday, the day before the ban was introduced.
On the Thursday (Jan 3), the total catch recorded as landed by the fleet was valued at about B1,194,195, Mr Paisal pointed out.
But last Sunday (Jan 6), the total haul recorded on the day was registered with an estimated value B3,098,884.
“At this value, the fleet pretty much broke even, despite the ban,” Mr Paisal said.