another publication by IMAGE asia

Chanchai Doungjit

Director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand Phuket (TAT) Office, has been a busy man since his arrival on the island last August. Here, he shares his insights into Phuket’s tourism development and reveals some of his favourite Phuket places.

Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Bangkok, and working with the TAT I’ve been based in Rayong province as well as the TAT office in Los Angeles, which is responsible for all of North America. My family, including my son, aged 25, are living in Bangkok.

Before coming here to work, had you been to Phuket before?
Yes, the first time I came to Phuket was about 15 years ago. There were not a lot of tourists then compared to now. The cost of living was still low and, aside from Patong, the beaches were not so crowded.

When you have free time in Phuket, what do you like to do?
I’m lucky that my office is in Phuket Old Town. I like to go out to eat chicken rice or noodle soup. Some of my favourite restaurants are Uptown and Raya in Phuket Town, and for seafood I go to Kan Eang @ Pier in Chalong. I love to play golf, and Phuket has some excellent golf courses.

What are the main priorities for you and your team at TAT Phuket?
The TAT domestic offices normally work to promote their destinations to Thai tourists, but in Phuket we also promote the island to overseas tourists. We have two jobs: the product side and the marketing side. For Phuket, we do not focus much on the marketing because it’s already well known. The priority for us is in improving the product, and we coordinate with other organisations to discuss issues such as dealing with garbage and improving the electricity supply.

What are the main challenges Phuket is facing as a growing tourism destination?
We worry about the quality of the product. The beaches, infrastructure, airport, highways, traffic – all of these things need to be managed properly and made better. When I go to other countries I see that people follow regulations. Here, there’s a lack of discipline and on this we need to improve.

How important is the marine leisure industry (yachting / luxury boat trips) for Phuket tourism?
We see this as our new potential market, in addition to other markets we’re targeting including honeymooners and the cruise liner market. Recently we discussed the budget for the next fiscal year 2014-2015 for the development of a convention centre, a deep-sea port and better linkage with other countries by sea – Malaysia, Singapore, even Myanmar. A new ferry route connecting Phuket to Krabi and Langkawi is in discussion. Phuket already has some excellent marinas including Royal Phuket Marina and Boat Lagoon. We will continue to encourage the private sector to develop and improve Phuket’s marinas, as the private sector can do a much better job than the government in this area.

The island seems to be sliding towards ever-cheaper mass ‘full-packaged’ tourism, which is sure to put off higher-spending, independent, tourists – not to mention the impact on local tourism-related businesses, such as restaurants. Do you see this as a problem?
We talk about this often. Phuket’s growth is very high and it creates some difficult situations. In terms of marketing we’re emphasising the high-quality markets such as golf tourism, weddings, MICE [meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions], and medical tourism. At the same time we have to support local people, the small-to-medium enterprises who may not be able to offer a five-star experience, so we have to find a way to balance these.

In 2012, Phuket enjoyed one of its best years ever in terms of tourist arrivals. What do you think are the main factors for Phuket’s continued growth?
Phuket has avoided some of the problems faced by other tourist destinations in Thailand in recent years, like the flooding in the North and riots in Bangkok. Phuket has had political stability and in comparison with other places the costs are not so high. The “Amazing Thailand, Amazing Value” promotion has been a success for Phuket and Thailand as a whole.