Phuket’s tourist arrival numbers have stabilised after the pre-Christmas/new year surge in passenger arrivals at Phuket International Airport. Since the middle of December, arrival data shows that Phuket is welcoming 10-15,000 passengers a day. Since the middle of January, the daily arrivals have flatlined, indicating an easing of demand as both the western and Chinese New Year holidays are now passed.
Whilst Phuket hoteliers and tour group operators are cheering on the influx of visitors back to the island, there are some disturbing trends which may threaten Phuket’s sustainable tourist revival for the rest of 2023.
First and foremost is the enormous influx of Russian visitors which started during October last year and has just increased with, now, nearly 1 in 3 arrivals to the island are from Russian ports.
From the start of November through to February 9, nearly 300,000 Russian travellers have come through Phuket’s immigration turnstiles. People from The Russian Federation are eligible for a 45 visa waiver, followed by a possible extension for another 30 days (after March 31, 2023 the visa waiver will revert to 30 days on arrival plus 30 day extension, unless the Thai government extends the promotion).
Figures from Phuket Immigration from November 1, 2022 – February 9, 2023
Never in Phuket’s history has there been such a concentration of one nationality contributing to the daily arrival figures. Even in the heyday of mass Chinese tourism, the concentration of Chinese tourists never reached beyond 28% in Phuket. That “eggs-in-on-basket” situation was tested after the July 2018 sinking of the ‘Phoenix’ south of Phuket where 47 Chinese tourists drowned. The bad publicity from that incident caused a steep drop off of Chinese visitors, poking a large hole in the tourist arrivals for at least the rest of 2018.
Speaking to a leading hotelier, who asked not to be identified, Phuket-GO were told that is a marked softening demand in forward bookings after April.
“Bookings have been brisk since the start of December last year but, compared to pre-Covid booking figures, we’re noticing a big drop off in demand after April, which is concerning.”
Villa owners, car rental companies and visa agents have also reported an enormous surge of demand from Russian clientele, pushing up rental prices around the island. One local agent, specialising in sales to Russian customers, says that most slack in the Phuket property market has now “well and truly” been taken up, forcing prices higher as a result.
“I fear many people in Phuket’s tourism business are just happy to be filling up their pockets again, from wherever the tourists are coming from, and not looking at the trends. The local hotels and tour stakeholders have made this mistake before with the influx of Chinese visitors in the decade before the pandemic.”