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Discountville Threatens Luxury Market

Category: , Posted:06 Feb 2010 | 11:36 am

The Phuket Gazette.
It all started when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down in 1989. After that, Russia Incorporated dissolved into Western capitalistic fervor, the likes which have not been seen since the untimely (though well deserved) death of disco.
Social change soon opened the door for Russia to contribute to a worldwide pop culture movement. From this we were given numerous fresh faces in the National Hockey League, tennis cover girl Anna Kornikova and even that kinda scary all-girl talentless pop duo, t.A.T.U. We should note, however, that the West did bring us Paris Hilton, so we probably break even.
Dusting off the old history books, it seemed like a fresh meaning was given the famous words of former US Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, who in 1949 coined the phrase, “The Russians are coming. The Russians are coming.”
Today, 61 years after Forrestal's infamous warning, as we cruise the mean streets of paradise in high season 2010, we seem to be in the midst of another invasion, the likes of which have not been seen since the tanks rolled into Yugoslavia in 1941. Only it's not just Russians, but masses of tourists from around the world, all looking for the cheapest deals in accommodation.
Phuket tourism is on the rebound like a basketball overinflated with helium, though this time out it's a numbers game. While spending per tourist is less, a whole new face of visitors are on the rise. Charter flights are bringing in the tourists in droves, highlighting a contrast between the 'new tourist' and the 'old tourist' of Phuket.
It's not unlike the school busing of the US integration programs of the 1960's between inner cities and squeaky clean suburbia. As we know, Phuket is no angel, and bar girl-touting pubs are pushing out from the confines of Patong and into Rawai and Kamala at breakneck speed.
We can't blame the Russians or anyone else for that; but frankly speaking, a tourism industry that resembles the hard times at discountville could derail the island's once promising luxury profile.
It's hard not to get caught up in a xenophobic funk, wondering if similarities between Phuket and that other whispered P-word (the infamous Pataya) are starting to emerge. Looking at the rising tide of mid-scale hotels coming up, it's like quenching the thirst of a stone cold alcoholic: more and more drinks, but no amount of booze will satisfy the mounting appetite.
As development here continues, the simple fact is that we could soon be taken over by a tourism market similar to the Walmart business plan – rapid expansion and discount prices. That's not an altogether bad thing, as they do have some really good deals, but it's also not likely to be a place I'd like to spend much time. My Walmart visits are typically cut-and-dry: A quick in, find what I'm looking for and dash for the exit, all while trying to not make eye contact with any of the borderline nut cases known to inhabit these environs.
Feeding the beast we know as tourism is increasingly difficult. With so many long-haul higher end tourists staying home, filling empty hotel rooms has to be done at cheaper prices in order to keep the cash drawers full. I'm reminded of the quote by Samuel Johnson, “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”
Since I'm fresh out of epiphanies at the moment, and cooler nights and later dawns are becoming quite common, I have recently been sleeping quite sound. I can't say I'm lying awake much, pondering this new twist in Phuketland. But of course, all this may change. Come summer, the early rising sun, paired with hot and humid tropical nights, will bring with it the anxious sweat. I know it will. It's only a matter of time.

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