Phuket’s tourism industry was already heavily affected by the strength of the Thai baht when the virus outbreak began, compounding the island’s tourism revenue woes, she added.
Visitors from China, Thailand’s biggest source of tourists, tumbled 85.3%, TAT Governor Yuthasak Supasorn told a meeting of tourism operators on Monday (Mar 9).
In the worst-case scenario, the number of foreign tourists may fall to 30 million this year from last year’s 39.8 million, with spending down 22% “if the virus situation bottoms in May”, he said.
Just last week, Mr Yuthasak said tourist numbers might drop by 6 million this year.
Tourism is crucial to Thailand as spending by foreign visitors amounted to B1.93 trillion last year, or 11% of gross domestic product (GDP).
The TAT sees a worst case this year of 10 million foreign tourists staying home and B1.5 trillion lost as forward bookings continue to flash warning signs.
Governor Yuthasak said that if the coronavirus crisis extends beyond May, the number of tourists would hit rock bottom in that month. In such a scenario, it would take another three months for restoration and business would be back in September.
As a result, Thai tourism would have 30mn international visitors, down from 39.8mn in 2019.
For the best-case scenario, visitors would decline to 34.2mn if the tension subsided in March, with business cratering in April before bouncing back by July.
Mr Yuthasak said Thai tourism stands a 30% chance of the worst-case scenario after international arrivals from Jan 25 to Feb 29 plunged 40% year-on-year to 2.8 mn.
During that period, the Chinese market tumbled 81% to 264,653 visitors.
Demand for travel to Thailand during this month will be stagnant, as forward bookings at full-service airlines are down 40% year-on-year, Mr Yuthasak said.
The average occupancy rate of hotels nationwide in February fell to 63.2% from 71.9% a year earlier.
Phuket’s suffering is apparent just by the numbers. February saw the number of international arrivals at Phuket International Airport fall by 35.83% compared with the preceding year. So far, for March 1-9, that number has blown out to -47.36%.
International arrivals at the airports in Bangkok, which feed tourists to Phuket via domestic flights, fared worse. Suvarnabhumi marked a 44.22% fall in the number of international arrivals in February, and marked a -60.64% drop for Mar 1-9.
Don Mueang airport’s plunge was similar, falling 53.11% year on year for February, and -68.63% so far for March.
“I expect the number of international tourists visiting Phuket this year to reach about 14mn,” Ms Napasorn told The Phuket News.
However, she declined to give an estimate on the tourism revenue to be gained from those tourists. “It is hard to say about the money while the coronavirus situation is still unfolding,” she said.
The TAT is maintaining its domestic targets of 172mn trips and B1.13trn in tourism revenue.
“The plan is to create domestic tourism packages targeting Thai people, encouraging them to take trips to places like Ranong, Phang Nga, Krabi and Phuket during the hot season,” Ms Napasorn said.
“I already have feedback about this idea. People are interested in this idea a lot. So this idea will be presented at the end of March,” she said.
On the international front, Ms Napasorn will be focussing on India, France, Russia and Vietnam as source markets.
“For India, I have invited social media bloggers and YouTubers to create content to promote Phuket,” said Ms Napasorn, who arrived from Vietnam to take up the post as TAT Phuket chief last month.
“For France, I have just issued to tour agencies a compilation of information about hotels and tourist attractions in Phuket so they can create new tour packages. We have just done the same for Russian tour agents.
“For Vietnam, I am thinking about creating tour packages focusing on family trips,” she said.
Ms Napasorn arrived in Phuket after serving as director of the TAT’s Ho Chi Minh City office, and held the post Chief of Action Plan Section of the TAT’s East Asia Market Division, and she believes that Vietnam is a high-priority target for Phuket, both as a source market and to align marketing campaigns with.
“Vietnamese people are very effective in manpower. They are hard-working and love to learn and be productive. Their country is developing very quickly, and now their education is really strong with English-communication skills.
“Their young generation has so much energy and motivation in life, and is hungry for travelling. They are a good target to travel to Phuket,” she added.
Ms Napasorn doesn’t consider the fast-developing Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc as a competitor, but rather as a destination that Phuket can work together with for the benefit of both islands.
“Phu Quoc is starting to develop, but it is growing quickly, as if it were Phuket’s sister. The island has very similar terrain to Phuket. The beaches on the west side are beautiful, but the east side is mud – but it is a cheaper there and a new island opening up to tourism,” Ms Napasorn noted.
“Campaigns to travel to Phu Quoc are mainly targeting European, especially Scandinavians,” she said.
“Phuket, along with Phang Nga and Krabi, is already a well established destination for these markets, and our plan is for us to combine our tour campaigns with theirs as ‘share marketing’,” she said.
“Tourists visiting Phu Quoc can also visit Phuket, and vice-versa,” she added.
“We should not miss out on ‘share tourist marketing’ with Vietnam,” Ms Napasorn stressed.
However, to make that happen, Ms Napasorn said it was vital for more direct flights between Phuket and Vietnam be developed. Steps are being made in the direction. VietJet Air already operates a direct flights from Hanoi, Danang and Phu Quoc, and Vietnam Airlines in October launched direct flights three times a week between Phuket and Ho Chi Minh City, she noted.
“We need share marketing with another country, and we also must find tourists from other countries, not just China,” Ms Napasorn said plainly.
“We need to spread the risk by having tourists from other countries because things like COVID-19 could happen anytime, and Chinese tourists disappearing has hurt us,” she said.
“Meanwhile, people in Phuket must brainstorm with officials to come up with solutions to problems. We must be responsible for the state of the environment, including air and water pollution, and how green the island is. Green hotels are a good example as these hotels are friendly to the environment,” she added.