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Given the backdrop of a booming Phuket real estate sector, one area that is often overlooked is the rental market. Despite a vibrant vacation short-stay segment, there remains a strong demand for extended and long-stay rentals across the island.

Rental demand coming out of the COVID19 pandemic experienced sustained uplift and has continued to perform well. Despite a return to seasonality for Phuket’s tourism sector, rentals have continued to post year-round gains.

Rather than simply asking what real estate brokers thought about rentals I took an opportunity to sit down with Brennan Campbell, Head of Brokerage at Thailand’s leading property portal Digging through data was the way to go and the idea was to look at full-year figures from 2023 and year-to-date 2024 to look for trends and changes. The figures may surprise you and no doubt give more insight on actual demonstrated demand.

Starting at the top and looking at the most popular real estate class for rentals, condominiums hold nearly 60% share, while detached houses in estates or projects make up over 20% share. Townhouses and stand-alone homes are both under the 10% marker. Comparing 2023 vs. 2024 condominiums are continuing to show growth.

Diving into specific condominium configurations in terms of popularity, one-bedroom units hit a share of over 40%, followed by two bedrooms at 20% and studios a similar number. Tracking year-over-year trends, smaller units that are lower priced are becoming more popular and there is a trading down of unit size due to pressure on prices.

On the house front, three-bedroom units stood at 55% demand in 2023 but became less attractive this year. In 2024, a quarter of rentals were four-bedroom homes.

Looking at the nationality of renters Russia tallied nearly one-third of the market in 2023, but this year has shifted downward to just 25%. Moving through the Top 5 sources of business are Thailand, the US, UK, and Australia.

Moving to submarkets, last year and this year have seen significant changes, though it’s important to note that 2024 is not full-year data. In 2023, the Top 5 submarkets were Cherngtalay, Patong, Kamala, Srisoontorn (inland). Kathu, Rawai, and Chalong also ranked well.

In 2024, Cherngtalay is at the top but again this is Q1 data and there is the winter snowbird effect. Rounding out the Top 5 submarkets are Kamala, Rawai,  and Patong/Kathu.

Rental tenure was a changing landscape last year and in 2024.  In 2023, the average term was just over 10 months while this year has slightly reduced to just over 9 months. Three-six-month terms are popular but not nearly as strong at yearly rentals which account for over half of the demand.

One surprising trend when reviewing 2023 rentals is that there for extended and long-stay terms, demand remains consistent throughout the year. There are not the same seasonal spikes as in tourism, but looking closer at peak season it appears renters are less inclined to enter into rentals, no doubt as a result of high prices of vacation rentals.

Tagging onto this is average market-wide rentals with a median monthly rental last year being THB68,000, and a similar number this year. This is an island-wide average and is for the overall condominium and house segments.

For buyers of Phuket property, taking a view on recurring yields is a good alternative to focusing on ‘the big flip’ of market appreciation. Real estate can be a wise long-term investment but removing as much risk at the acquisition stage is important.

The best advice is for buyers to do their homework and identify what are the most popular rental configurations, submarkets, and projects. Online sites now offer good historical data on rentals but this is just one element of buyer due diligence. Work through the numbers, and understand the difference between gross and net rentals, as often common area or maintenance fees are not factored in. Anticipate and plan longer-term maintenance expenditures, especially for houses and villas, these are capital-heavy investments and Phuket’s tropical weather takes its toll.

We do expect more ‘build to rent ‘property developments in Phuket in the coming years, though a key deterrent is underlying land costs that are skyrocketing. In the serviced apartment sector, we have seen HOMA with two open properties and a third coming in Chalong take a view on sustainable cash flow from rentals. As the island’s  story continues to mature and fragment, rentals remain an ongoing evolving storyline.













The release of plans for a massive highway interchange in North Phuket is spurring development activity in the Mai Khao area. A Mueang Mai interchange on the road leading to Phuket International Airport on the island’s main North-South artery will also have a  direct connection to the East Coast spur highway 4027.  (CLICK to see map)

This is expected to create significant growth of traffic to the island’s East side where over 70% of the spur roadway that starts at the Heroines Monument has been widened. Part of the Interchange will see the final stretch of road to Mueng Mai widened to complete a 4 lane highway from the airport via the East Coast.

Currently, plans call for the construction of an underpass at the Heroines Monument to start later this year, which is expected to create a gridlock situation for North-South traffic and access to the airport. Given the underpass will be a multi-year project, this is anticipated to mostly affect travelers in the South, Patong, and central part of the island, with the movement of tourists and those looking to get to from the airport.

Property developers who have been hit by high land prices in the Bangtao Chengtalay area where land per rai is exceeding THB20 million are now looking to Pa Klok where values are currently 1/3 of the West Coast areas.

As for those who were wondering why Bumrungrad chose the Mueng Mai/Mai Khao area, the new interchange is expected to create a large commercial and residential district.  A well-known retail developer is holding a large parcel adjacent to the interchange.

Looking at the current real estate trends in Phuket, C9 Hotelworks research is showing some investors who bought multiple properties in estates or condominiums are starting to bring these into the secondary market to take profits. We expect a larger influx of secondary units in both single detached homes and villas, as well as condominiums

With new project launches now peaking and some notable ones coming in the next 3-4 months, by mid-year, the competitive landscape between off-plan and secondary market units is anticipated to become more competitive and price-driven.  While 2023 was a record-setting year for transactions, we look at 2024 to continue rising by the sheer metric of new project launches and mass market sales.

That said, there are mounting concerns about an over-reliance on Russian and Eastern European buyers, and by mid-year developers will be forced to look for new markets and return to more focused sales and marketing activities in diverse geographic sources of buyers.

One final trend to take note of is that there is movement in the end-user segment of buyers of those seeking less traffic but still seeing Phuket International Airport as a key lifestyle indicator. This journey is over the Sarasin Bridge in Phang Nga.  Here,  foreign retirees and empty-nest couples are moving to the Thai Muang area and even further North to Khao Lak where land values are lower than Phuket prime areas by 50-75% in some cases. The four-lane highway North has increased access and we expect the coastal drift up to continue.

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.

As we inch slowly towards May, Phuket hoteliers for the most part are staring into an ever-deepening divide of the unknown.

What we do know is that airlift and airport arrivals have shrunken to a trickle due to the worsening spread of Covid-19 throughout Thailand and a Songkran-induced spike.

It remains to be seen what will happen in a week as the four-day beginning of May extended holiday looms? Given the current stay-at-home, work-from-home ethos in Bangkok and Phuket, the only smiling faces are those of Grab and Foodpanda.

As Thai summer school holidays are expected to see a muted response to domestic travel, an increasing number of hotels and tourism-reliant businesses are once again facing the issue of whether to close and wait out the storm or operate with negative cash flow.

On the upside, Phuket’s vaccination drive for Thais has eclipsed 100,000 and is now continuing at an impressive pace. With a 1st July due date for the Phuket Sandbox reopening, it is possible but there are worries about it being probable.

One key learning of the current restrictions which has created arrival checkpoints at Phuket International Airport and on land at the Thachatchai checkpoint can function to check documents for vaccine certification, and undergo rapid test regime.

In essence, it’s possible that if the Phuket Sandbox proceeds that the border control mechanism we see today will be extended into the future.

Today, the biggest inhibitor to any significant return of overseas tourists remains any requirement which involves a quarantine. If this is removed, the Field of Dreams returns and so will the overseas travelers.

That said, there is a juggernaut, as if the current model is applied, given the low vaccination rates in Bangkok and across Thailand, that the island will be chasing a one-trick pony. It is unlikely domestic travelers will effectively return to Phuket in any real numbers under the present vaccine and test restrictions, nor will they want to, given that a larger number of foreign travelers will be around so the fear factor kicks in.

Damned if we do, damned if we don’t. One thing for certain is that Phuket cannot exist or shall we say subsist on domestic travelers alone. Vaccination is the key, and not just on this island, but across all of Thailand.

The Phuket Sandbox is a bright spot on a troubled horizon but rain clouds are now a common occurrence? It’s extremely hard not to be comfortably numb but can only wait and wonder. Come what May?

My fascination with dinosaurs has been a captivating interest since childhood. Ranging from early indestructible toys and eventually morphing into the late-night watching of the Japanese movie Godzilla. Size mattered in the fight for world domination and big, bigger, biggest was the order of the day. Eventually, my attention drifted and dinosaurs remained cool but they lost their luster and moved way down the pecking order to aliens, zombies, time travelers, and goth pursuits.

Generally speaking, the extinction of the dinosaurs was some 65 or so, million years ago and the trigger was either climate change or maybe a geological event, but at the end of the day, the epic creatures were toast in short order. Gone, but not forgotten, though relegated to Jurassic streaming, theme parks, and Marvelmania.

Today, my mind wanders a zig-zag course about what will happen to the hotel industry after the present madness has subsided? Scale, economics, safety, and disruption are all things that keep me awake in those maddening pre-dawn hours. You know those right? The silent time, when you are alone to fight the madness that lurks just outside, but remain safe at least for the moment, tucked into your designer duvet with a threatening world looming outside. Seconds from disaster.

My current angst, amongst many, is one that is focused on the future of the hotel business. Over the past decade, I have watched the allure of our industry fade as the next-gen enters the workforce. Somehow the service sector has lost its mojo to the best and brightest minds rolling off the assembly belt. Silicon tech, private equity, start-ups, and blockchain typologies are captivating the talent pool, leaving hotels and hospitality out in the cold.

This winter of my discontent is only made worse when I realize this evaporating talent pool can best be summed up when you look at how hotel chains have addressed the advances of technology over the past two decades. Look no further than lame brand standards that have opted for dumbed-down technology solutions such as Fidelio or Opera that assume hotel staff are unable to perform any task beyond data entry. Filling in the blanks and close the ranks. Yes, while the lurking danger of the OTA industry basically backdoored the entire hotel business, the best response was again cookie cutter-led towards a staid revenue management regime which essentially was like showing up an hour after happy hour and getting fleeced for a V & T at full price. A day late and a dollar short.

Hotel chains with their ignominious brand standards have created a culture of clerks at a juncture of time when technology is changing our world day in and day out. So when we look around and wonder why the best minds are shifting to other businesses, we have to look no further to how the dumbing down of hotel tech and how it reflects an industry unable to empower, innovate, or adapt to the influence of trends beyond the safety of our own little box-like world of hotels.

What I wonder about most these days is just how relevant hotel chains will be in trying to recapture their momentum after the pandemic? Resource stressed, severed loyalty from customers, staff, and owners and increasingly non-competitive in the greater business world that requires talent to advance the industry? Suddenly hotels have to create their own new business streams with social media, or get beyond the antique, outdated business plan and tap into the amazing new technology that is changing our world. Only one thing is missing? The people who will drive change, as they seemingly have for the most part left our industry and departed the box for greener pastures. Will they come back, or will this business go the way of the dinosaurs? Only time will tell that story I’m afraid.

Driving down a seemingly endless winding road on the warm tropical island of Phuket, I glance up and see a sign indicating a left turn, shouting out in big bold letters ‘Welcome to Days of Future Past.’ Reading between the lines, let me state that we have landed headfirst like crash test dummies into the uncertain days of 2021.

I’ve managed to pass the last two decades (twenty years or thereabout) in Phuket. In a life spent more outside my own country of birth than inside, my nomadic travels and work have cut a rather expansive swarth all over Asia, the Pacific and far, far beyond. Countries lived in once I start counting, well let’s say I run out of fingers on both hands while reciting the roll call.

Despite the seemingly endless list, what defined the revolving trip before landing here could best be summed up in the words of Bob Dylan “how does it feel? To be on your own, with no direction home. A complete unknown, like a rolling stone.” I never really managed to stick anywhere for so long, except right here on a small island in Thailand.

So how does it feel? After all this time and despite the bad, sad craziness of 2020, I have to say my heart remains full of love for this place we call Phuket, which has become my own home town. The gap time, the fringes at the end of a year, and beginning of a new journey are always a fine time to reflect. And this I shall do, so bear with me.

Covid-19 in some way has learnings and out of the worst of times, can come green shoots, so here are mine. When I look at Phuket, it’s not with rose-colored shades and I certainly see the litter by the roadside, cracked and peeling paint, and the painful price of a taxi, if only you can find one. Yes, it can be chaotic, funky and frustrating at the worst of times.

But looking past the frayed ends what comes home is roost is the absolute sense of community the pandemic has created from physical lockdowns to emotional rollercoasters. I can look back at the amazing generosity of locals and expats to feed the poor during the closures, or those amazing people who give of themselves to worthy causes from educating Burmese kids, to small informal schools or saving dogs, cats, elephants, and just random acts of kindness at the worst of times.

While most tropical islands tout their natural attractions, what makes Phuket special is the people, the spirit and most importantly how it keeps moving ahead with its own flaws and imperfections. I’m not a big believer in religion, what we have today is pretty much it, and those pictures of saints in the sky are way too vanilla for me. I’d never get into heaven in a black t-shirt. In a life marred by some good and other very, very bad decisions, the only way forward has had a hell of a lot of bumps in the road. But what a ride.

And as I hit my turn signal to indicate a left turn into 2021, my thoughts arrive at the simple conclusion there is no better place to be than Phuket. We all need a little Adrenalin in our lives, it’s the best reminder that we are alive and Covid-19 has and continues to provide just that. It’s the unknown. Our only way forward is with faith, community and belief that this too, as in all things will also pass.

I’m looking forward to seeing Phuket on the other side of this debacle and believe its best days are yet to come. Tourism will return. I believe this island sandbox remains a place of magic, promise and generous souls. So how does it feel, you might ask? It feels just fine. Thank you Phuket for bringing me home.

As I madly type away on the keyboard of my MacBook Pro, thousands of dumbstruck hoteliers across the world are slaving away in a blurring succession of days and nights in the mindless pursuit of completing an ignominious document known as The Hotel Business Plan. It’s Friday and I’m over-caffeinated, so hang on tight. Wait, I can hear my heart beating fast, or is that a gang of unruly wild cats on the roof of my office? Never mind.

Every great religion in the world has a voluminous written tome aimed at spelling out in truly arcane, absurd, and most often monotonous overtones why they are the true one and only el supremo. These are fanatical spiritual guidebooks that expect unquestioning followers to simply take instructions and question nothing. They are in essence literary lobotomies.

Global hotel chains over the past few decades of meteoric growth have taken on a similar game plan, recruiting unquestioning disciples, racking up bureaucratic organizational charts, and enslaving hotel owners under a doctrine of utilitarian standardization. The entire process has become one of abject objectification (nice eh?).

Perhaps one of the leading examples of this dumbing-down process to the lowest-common denominator is the tortuous exercise of compiling an annual business plan. Essentially, as much of 25% or in many cases more, of each year is spent creating a plan for the next year based on past events. It’s the equivalent of trying to make your shiny car go faster, as you take your belt to the nearest horse and awkwardly bludgeon them into a doomed forward sprint.

In days past you could peek way up high onto a General Manager’s top bookshelf and there somewhere at the back, gathering dust would be an enormous brick-like book that was of no practical use whatsoever. Today, we have things like The Cloud, and if there is such a thing as digital dust, baby this is where you’d find it’s cosmic twin.

I am not a total idiot and understand the need for standing in line, order, and rules. Yet, at the end of the day, these cannot be unquestioned or in many cases better ideas sought. And yet, year in and year out, the massive waste of time spent on business plans remains an industry obsession by the messianic cult of hoteldom.

In perhaps the most bizarre circumstances amidst the catastrophic backdrop of Covid-19 and a global pandemic, dutiful hoteliers are shifting into zombie-mode and creating a 2021 yearbook that they, their executive teams and most everyone knows is entirely meaningless. It’s a bit like preparing for the breakfast buffet the night before, as the Titanic sinks rapidly into those icy waters of oblivion.

Today the epidemic tasks that remove hotel managers from their immediate tasks of survival are representative of a tragically flawed and broken system that is a day late and a dollar short. For General Managers the time spent on group generated meetings, reports, countless forecasts, and ultimately the doomed business plan as a hotel owner is fighting for survival is pure and simple nonsense.

What I’d advocate is the time has come to tear the house down, kill the annual business plan.  Create strategic rolling cash flow forecasts as lead documents. Forget the typical STR comp set of hotels that are only intended as a masturbatory pat on the back for those at the top. Sadly this mentality ignores the multiple non-STR hotels that lay a stone’s throw away, or what about those restaurants, bars, and other businesses that compete with you?

The tragic reality is hotel owners build and invest in properties that extend way beyond rooms but the only true measurement of success is a pre-determined set of indicative rooms in chain hotels. It’s a rigged system that supports the notion that managers lack the brains or skill to manage a business and all that’s left on the table are enablers. We’ve lost our entrepreneurship willpower and ingenuity. What happened to DIY, or have the hotel brand police imprisoned our collective soul?

My thoughts down the raging river of 2020 and no return refocus to the need for absolute disruption of hospitality’s broken infrastructure. One that places the ineffectual bureaucracy where it belongs, into the nearest dumpster. Hotel chains have to learn to act as ongoing business concerns, to live up to their promises to serve hotel owners’ interests and to foster and promote managers who touch, feel, and act as business leaders, day in and day out.

Someday in the very far future, after our civilization has faded, as new generations wander about the world, finding vacuous empty hotels in not unlike the way explorers landed on Easter Island and questioned those massive stone images, they will come upon these large dusty copious volumes of useless information that proudly tout a headline title –  The Hotel Business Plan, and wonder why? I know I do, what about you?

Despite the global pandemic, Bangkok’s rapid-fire megacity growth trajectory has remained largely in place. While life in Covid-19 times is a bit like sparring with wild gangs of chaos monkeys in a dead-end ally, thankfully one of the singular guilty pleasures of these strange times is the ability to at least travel domestically.

Last week, in the country where time stands still or at least it seems that way, as the waning days of the lost summer blaze away, I bumped a ride on the big bus in the sky up to the streets of Thailand’s capital.

New hotels were on my mind, as my pulse raced along with a staccato beat. Or maybe it was the third double shot Americano. Glancing at my phone, thinking out loud who still wears a watch? It’s only bloody ten in the morning and here I was amped and ready to roll. Bright sights, big city, drum roll, please.

First stop, down Langsuan to the expansive Sindhorn Village, landing me on the front door of the new Kimpton Maa-Lai. Being from the US (though lately, I’ve all too often opted for the pseudonym Miles from Canada, thanks to the Tweeting Cheeto), I have some history with the Kimpton brand which is part of the IHG brand stable.

Yet, for those in Kingdom come, the name is a blank slate here in Asia, with the City of Angels providing an opportunity to cut its teeth as it looks to rep-up. My first impression is that of a gentrified West Coast vibe, posh dog walkers (part of the Kimpton brand DNA is pet-friendly) glide by, and rightly so in the age of dining dogma, the focus is on food and beverage from the get-go. Scions of the leisure class are a common sight, leash in hand.

Most memorable is the rooftop Bar Yard, which has Bangkokians buzzing, but I did love Craft on the ground floor and is an homage to a variety of stunning Thai coffees. Ex-IHG  F and B concept guy Shane Giles who is now out on his own, leading consulting start-up – Blue Salt is behind the current and soon to be expanded offerings. It’s a big ask with all the bars and restaurants in this hotel, but let’s just say it will be an interesting ride. The hotel rooms will open in October.

Shifting the chit chat to Sindhorn Village on a warm breezy day you can take a look into the future and feel the vibe of great things to come within a New York Central Park way. Lumpini as it goes is starting to see a massive set of mega-projects in the peripheral area such as Bangkok One and Dusit Central Park. It’s a strong promise of lifestyle in the margins, without a dancing bear. Some of the city’s most expensive addresses will are yet to come with uber-luxury dog walking crash pads.

Keeping the flame burning, my next stop takes me past the wall of voodoo and down to the resurging Chao Praya River. One of Asia’s most notable accidental tourism phenoms has to be how the two-decade-old commissioning of the BTS sky train shifted tourists away from the river and Silom, and up into Sukhumvit and beyond.

Today, the culture club is seeing a virtual renaissance in the area. In the mood for art, I took some ‘me time’ to head over to the River City complex to browse the Andy Warhol Pop Art exhibition which runs through 24th November. On display are 128 original works of art from the king of pop, and what am amazing happening for Bangkok. My recommendation – just do it.

One organization that is getting thing rights is the Bangkok River collaborative project that is being led by a stacked deck of leading hotels, retail, and travel players. The connection to the creative district that is driving some of the most exciting urban redevelopment in the region. Hats off to David Robinson for some inspired thinking and giving creativity a sense of belonging.

Near but oh so far away I was about to be blown out of my tattered green, road-weary sneakers. There was no dancing bear, but a  quick looksie at the new Four Seasons left me gobsmacked. Everything about this place speaks luxury, from the architecture of John-Michel Gathy and Denniston to an articulated horizon of river life on the move.  General Manager Lubosh Barta poked his head around corners, to point out a series of memorable discoveries.

Part of the mega complex which includes the towering posh Four Seasons Residences is the sleek, low key chic Capella. Talking to the GM John Blanco, my first line was “it just looks like a Capella.” Understated, intimate, and boutique the sizing suite size rooms and riverfront villas, make it a formable object of desire. The bottom line is with October openings, these twins are both stunning yet provide a distinct yin and yang to Bangkok nouveau lux.

Meanwhile back on the BTS, clutching my tattered, massively worn-down Rabbit Card, that looked like it had been chewed on by some beat weasel,  I masked up in Anglo Batman style and rode the rails to Sukhumvit. It was time to scuddle down Soi 8 to the spanking new lyf from Ascott. Bright, brash, coliving in a social setting. I love it.  It’s a spontaneously engaging entry for affordable travel, with a somewhat sophomoric tongue in cheek sense of place. It was in all a coolio moment.

As the afternoon waned, cocktail time neared, my trip to the big smoke was indeed a look behind the curtain of tomorrowland.  Bangkok’s splitting atoms is seeing a new set of districts or mini-metros that look to throw a curveball into the current marketplace.  Had I seen too much, or did it only wet my appetite for another trip?

Jesus, the virtual ink from the title isn’t dry yet, as my mind swirls into gender-neutral territory searching for a replacement to the term middleman. After a fast and furious visit to cyberland, the best alternative is probably the word intermediary. Sadly, it’s weak as English tea and as saggy as an aging, punched out, a heavyweight boxer in the waning seconds of the final round. One thing for sure is death, in this case, is DOA (for those unfamiliar with noir, that’s dead on arrival).

As usual, I have digressed at an early stage. Is it too late for a comeback or have you moved onto browsing those all too funny endless stream of cat photos? Cats are hard to beat on IG or YouTube, but let’s give it a whirl anyway.

Covid-19 has taken an unimaginable toll on the global travel business. One of the most in-your-face examples is the endless line of rapidly closing travel agencies and keeping the theme going, hitting terrifying high-speeds onto a narrow thin runway, into a head-on collision are the collapsing DMC’s (destination management companies). Boom! In both cases, the goose, the golden egg, and even the entire house have been entirely blown away. Obliterated. Nada.

Last Thursday (sorry if this is too specific), I was noodling on LinkedIn and dodging pesky job seekers and personal wealth managers and came upon a news feed about the tragic closing of the STA Travel in the U.K. My eyes came to rest on the heart-wrenching commentary of 500 job losses and nostalgic posts over how student travel was intertwined with personal life journeys and emotional outbursts over how tourism could never recover from the impending lack of human interaction. OMG. Doomsday hit home, humanity was totaled and there was still another 48 hours to go before the weekend.

At this point let me make it clear I am not, or at least do not believe I am a cold-hearted bastard, though my first two wives might say otherwise. But for those of you who know me, I do like to cut to the chase, and so I threw in a post essentially saying that Covid-19 was just an accelerator of trends that were coming anyway and the brick and mortar travel agents and DMC’s were essentially deer in the headlights of technology.

To my credit, I did offer up that the pandemic was an opportunity to reinvent and innovate, but by this time the angry flood of counter-posts started rolling in about the heartlessness of business, the immorality of job losses and the total disintegration of travel as it had lost its inherent human touch.

This is of course bollocks, and I should know as my fat human fingers type away at the groaning MacBook and reach out every so often for the double-shot Americano. Reality bites and while I firmly believe we need to pay homage to our roots and history, we also need to evolve. This includes moving on from living in caves, having an average life expectancy in our early 20’s and being chased by prehistoric dinosaurs.

Where I live, in Thailand, tourism was changed forever by a book in 1975 from Lonely Planet named Southeast Asia on a Shoestring. It became the DIY handbook for generations of a global nomad’s in the years that followed. As the once mysterious regions of Asia, from Bali, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar methodically opened and developed, more editions followed as did greater numbers of travelers.

Tropical islands moved through tourism cycles from backpackers, to group tours, onto the advent of pish-posh luxury pool villas and splintering into even more niches. The East slowly edged towards the West and the veil was lifted to the roaring sound, high above the jet engines of low-cost airline carriers. As AirAsia aptly coined in its slogan ‘now everyone can travel’. They did. They came, they saw and still more came. Until now.

Today Lonely Planet has been nearly downsized out of existence. Books? Who needs books when you have a smartphone and TripAdvisor? It’s not unlike the downfall of Tower Records to Amazon and then into the age of downloads. In some cases, companies evolved or reinvented, but in most the doomed voyage has taken down employees just like the sinking of the Titanic and the iceberg of Covid-19, laying just beneath the surface, lurking until the nightmare became real.

In many ways, I’m a romantic, and the older I get can wax poetically about the past. Though if I take time and look at what is being retold, I realize our memories are half-truths only, with much of what really happened, filtered out and left behind, forgotten, deep inside the life bin. While it’s not to the extent of fake news, let’s just say the lines are gray.

Truthfully looking back at the human era of Lonely Planet travel, despite its hipster overtone was the fact that you could be deep within one of Asia’s emerging country-scapes, carrying a dog-eared copy of your worn-down guidebook, walk into some local hole-in-the-wall eatery and come face to face with yourself. Scattered at other tables were other versions of the nomadic persona, each clutching the telltale tome with near-religious fervor. Bottom line is we traveled where someone wanted us to go, or discovered what we were destined to in the pages of our instruction manual.

So, my question to Luddites everywhere, is TripAdvisor any different? To be succinct, it is, because of the technology that wraps around the world, that is has made the world even smaller. We no longer use just a single guidebook but the voices in our head, are written words by humans, many, many humans. Yes, some are ignorant, stupid, and annoying but yet, there is the human touch in all that we do, express. We’ve traded our single hard copy guidebook for a smartphone. That is the only real change.

As for travel agents, DMC’s and the rest, my only form of condolence can best be summed up as ‘thank you for your service’. You got us this far up the river but now we have to get out of the boat and walk alone. Yes, in the classic film Apocalypse Now the captain said, never get out of the boat, but damn it’s time to sink or swim. Humanity adjusts in time to changing

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