Increasing flights to Phuket have produced optimistic forecasts

That optimism probably needs to be tempered, though, by the as-yet unrevealed ability of Phuket’s airport to steadily handle more traffic.The Assistant Director of the Phuket office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Wannaprapa Suksomboon, says occupancy for October on Phuket is already averaging 50 percent, with the annual Vegetarian Festival a major attraction.She said direct flights and charters between January and August had helped to deliver 950,936 international visitors to Phuket, with Swedes, Australians, Finns, Chinese, the Middle East and India all prominent.

A sweeping account of the rapid rise inĀ  flights to Phuket also cameĀ  yesterday from an unexpected source – Laguna Phuket, a seven-brand destination resort. Laguna Phuket issued a media release about the increased flights ”expected to drive a surge in tourism during the coming high season.”

Not since the ”Phuket is Back!” campaign that followed the 2004 tsunami has Laguna Phuket been so publicly positive about Phuket’s ability to attract tourists in larger numbers.

Michael Ayling, managing director of Laguna Resorts and Hotels, is quoted as saying: ”Phuket’s life blood is the airline industry and any new flights from established or growing markets are always welcome.

”We encourage airlines to continue this growth, as competition to Thailand’s tourist industry from neighboring countries remains intense.”

The release lists new Phuket flights with Qatar Airways, which launches a daily service from Doha via Kuala Lumpur on October 11; Hainan Airlines, the first domestic Chinese carrier to fly direct to the island from Beijing with a thrice-weekly service launched in July; Aeroflot’s new thrice-weekly direct flights from Moscow launching on December 29; and St. Petersburg-based Rossiya Airlines, due to begin scheduled flights to Moscow for onward connections with Thai Airways’ flights to Phuket.

More feeder flights are coming from the key Australian market with connections to Perth, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne all set to increase.

”The success of our established visitor markets like Australia and growing ones such as Russia, China and the Middle East depend on airline links that offer choice and flexibility,” Mr Ayling is quoted as saying. ”It’s extremely pleasing that airlines are responding to meet the travel demands of these markets.”

With Phuket tourism officials flying out on Sunday on a five-day ”road show” campaign to drive more business from Sydney and Brisbane, comparisons with last year’s figures continue to reflect substantial increases every month.

The October 2009-August 2010 total of arrivals and departures is 6,317,298, a 25 percent increase on the previous figure.

Budget has been set aside for enlarging Phuket airport’s capacity to 12.5 million – and possibly even 15 million – arrivals and departures. The new, 5.8 billion baht airport should be complete in March 2014.

However, until a contractor is chosen and a timetable for the work is released, it’s unclear whether or not flight and passenger numbers can continue to expand, or whether there will be a construction-enforced cap on arrivals.

The completion of the airport at a total capacity of 12.5 million (or if existing staff quarters at the southern edge of the airport are demolished, 15 million) will make Phuket’s tourism growth beyond that point problematic.There is also as yet no strategy to control the number of new resorts, adding rooms at levels that are currently outpacing the increases in arrivals.

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