TOURISM / SOUTHERN THAILAND
TAT aims to spread message of recovery
Most of the hotels and other tourism businesses have now been rebuilt, except in Khao Lak, which should recover next year.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) expects the tourism business in the three key destinations in southern Thailand _ Phuket, Phangnga and Krabi _ to be back to its pre-tsunami state within the next year.
Most of the hotels and other tourism businesses destroyed by the December 2004 wave have now been rebuilt, except in Khao Lak, which should recover completely by next year.
Now the TAT wants to spread the word that the South has made a complete recovery. It plans promotional roadshows in Italy, Spain and Japan this year.
According to Suwalai Pinpradab, director of the agency's Southern Region 4, the rainy season in Thailand coincides with the holiday season in southern Europe. She said visitors from countries like Italy and Spain could help fill hotel rooms during Thailand's low season.
''We are not worried about the number of tourists in Phuket because it is well-known among foreign tourists worldwide,'' she said. ''But we are concerned that uncontrolled property development in Phuket may cause problems because of the insufficient infrastructure.''
The TAT expects that more promotion will help hotel operators to raise low-season occupancy rates by at least 10 percentage points, from 60% in Phuket and Krabi and only 40% in Phangnga.
Ms Suwalai said that Phuket would have around 40,500 hotel rooms by the end of this year, up from 36,000 last year. Most of the new supply consists of upper-scale hotels and villas and boutique properties.
This year, the TAT estimates that the number of tourist arrivals to Phuket will increase to 5.5 million, compared with almost five million last year.
She expects this year to be a good one for Krabi, particularly in the high season. In 2007, the occupancy rate stayed at 60% to 70% on average, compared with around 50% in the year before.
Also helping Krabi will be the fact that more visitors might look beyond busy Phuket. In addition, the Krabi international airport has been upgraded to international status.
This year, the TAT anticipates that hotel rooms in Krabi will increase to 17,000, up from 15,000 last year. Ms Suwalai expects that Krabi will draw 2.4 million visitors, compared with around 2.2 million in 2007.
Phangnga, meanwhile, has some limitations to growth because some of its key tourist locations, including the Surin and Similan Islands, are part of a marine national park and must be closed for part of the year.
However, in the high season from November to April, the occupancy rate in Phangnga is usually around 80%. The province had 4,500 hotel rooms at the end of last year and is expected to add 500 this year.