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Waiting For the Chinese? The Year That Was. The Year That May Come

Category: Opinion, Posted:30 Dec 2023 | 13:19 pm

As we sit on the cusp of New Year, it’s a great time to take a few moments to reflect on Phuket’s tourism market. This was and is, we waited for the return of the Chinese. Some came, many more didn’t and at the end of the day, it’s hard to tell when they might come back in numbers to 2018.

Today, CNN published a piece on the top global destinations suffering from overtourism. Phuket (and Bali) were both there. No surprise though the clickbait new piece referenced research by which is hardly a credible consumer research firm.

Still, we have to face the growing pains of the island, and how increasing traffic, an ailing infrastructure, and high season gouging will impact hotels and tourism in the coming year. Phuket as in most of Southeast Asia is no longer cheap and competition is rising not just in the region but globally. Post-pandemic traveler expectations are now seeing more price resistance, and there is of course the hit of geo-political volatility in the mix.

Speaking to many Phuket hoteliers over the past few weeks,  the reality on the ground is that spending is down and expectations for this high season not meeting the performance of the 2022/23 season. What is apparent is that we are back to the trends of 2018 and 2019. A more compressed high season is expected and the start of a new trading cycle.

So where do we go from here? Like it or not we are on the cusp of 2024 and that world is increasingly complex. Let’s not get into the politics of it, but volatile economies are running amock. What has happened to the Chinese economy was years in the making and COVID-19 just accelerated it, the same as the push down of the Vietnamese property market.

As I grow tired of being greeted daily by moans from Phuketians about traffic, it’s a very real and present danger to tourism. As are rising prices and an attitude from the island’s service sector to make as much as quickly as possible, and damn the consequences.

What will 2024 bring? I have no idea, it will be one day at a time. But for hotels, the message here is to return to quality, return to equitable pricing, and strive to return Thai hospitality to the offering. If we lose that, all is lost, so it’s time to remember what got us here in the first place, the smiles, the service, and the Thainess of things.

Happy New Year and I do remain positive for 2024, but also will keep my feet on the ground and realistic. There is no better place to live than Phuket and I’m here through the thick and the thin of it all.

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