Tommy Serban, 35, is the senior product manager of TUI Nordic, a tour operator in Scandinavia. He is originally from Copenhagen and has a master’s degree in business management. Mr Serban lived in Phuket from 2007 to 2010 and has been working with TUI Nordic for 14 years.
Here, he discusses Nordic tourists’ concerns about Phuket, the current state of Phuket’s tourism industry and what problems need to be fixed in order to bring quality tourists back to the island.
PHUKET: We have been working in Thailand for 28 years, and from the very beginning we put a lot of focus on Phuket, mainly the Kata-Karon area.
I can tell you that this region is struggling. Our own business in Phuket is down 25 per cent overall, compared with last year’s sales.
This could be because the baht is more expensive now, but I believe that there are other, bigger problems behind this drop in visitors, such as the sun loungers being removed from the beaches, slow airport and immigration services, and traffic on the island.
The reputation of Phuket has also been damaged by negative media coverage in Nordic countries reporting on recent problems the island has faced.
All of these issues have caused a decrease in the volume of customers choosing Phuket. When people stop choosing Phuket, other potential customers will notice and will choose to go somewhere else as well.
One of the biggest issues is the removal of the sun loungers. This is a service our customers want and always ask for. They do miss the sun loungers.
I agree that the beaches look more beautiful without the chairs. Before, there were too many – it was out of control. It was good that the government came in to clean things up. However, they went too far.
The government needs to find a way to please tourists, especially the loyal ones who return every year.
These return customers are often over 50 years old and stay for two or three weeks at a time. They need the convenience of a sun lounger and an umbrella when they are out in 35-degree heat on the beach all day.
This can be done in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and also allows these tourists their comforts.
The government can invest in proper sun loungers that look nice, and can rent them out to vendors who wish to use them for business.
Another issue that is hurting business is the airport. Immigration is extremely slow, inefficient and unorganized. It is positive that it’s now being expanded and further developed, as quality tourists expect quality service.
Right now, quality tourists have to stand in a long queue, and when they finally get out of the airport they drive out onto roads with terrible traffic.
It comes down to this: people are now starting to ask themselves whether or not they want to come back to Phuket for their next holiday, or if they want to go somewhere else. If repeat customers continue to have holidays jeopardized by their recent experiences here, it will make for a very challenging future for Phuket.
We need to address these issues and work together to fix them. We must listen to the tourists, as they spend a lot of money here, which then goes back into the local community.
The Nordic market, especially our customers, have been very loyal to this destination. We all have good times and bad times, but we’ve always wanted to come back here.
This is a fantastic destination with beautiful beaches, nice people and good food. People like coming back to Thailand. It won’t take much effort to make positive changes here that can go a long way to improve Phuket.
Once these problems are fixed, Phuket can go from good to excellent again.
— Chutharat Plerin