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    Lifestyle Curators for Thailand + Southeast Asia

    Phuket grows as Thailand’s Second Most Important Gateway

      /  DESTINATIONS   /  Phuket grows as Thailand’s Second Most Important Gateway

    By Imtiaz Muqbil,
    Executive Editor,

    The launch of Emirates Airlines’ direct daily flights from Dubai to Phuket on Dec 10, 2012 has enhanced the role of the idyllic tourist spot as the country’s second most important gateway after Bangkok. This strategic effort to better balance the entry points for visitors has been one of the most important developments in the history of Thai tourism. It also meets the objectives of the national economic and social development plan to create more jobs in rural areas and better spread tourism income nationwide.

    The need to diversify the gateways has gained importance in the last few years when arrivals into Bangkok were affected by a number of domestic political disturbances and natural disasters such as floods centered in and around the Thai capital. Phuket fit the bill. Often dubbed as the Pearl of the Andaman, Phuket is the country’s biggest island, about the same size as Singapore. Although best known for its great beaches and world renowned diving sites, it has recently seen serious development of its historic heritage tracing its tin-mining and Sino-Portuguese roots, as well as a spectacular range of spas, health and wellness resorts, yacht marinas, attractions and boutique hotels.

    All this has created the capacity to handle the growing number of Thai and foreign visitors. Here are some figures:

    The total number of visitors to Phuket nearly doubled from 5,005,653 in 2007 to 9,467,248 in 2011. Thai visitors were up from 1,722,243 to 2,844,472 and foreigners, from 3,283,410 to 6,622,776 in the same period.

    The average length of stay of Thai visitors rose from 2.96 days in 2007 and to 2.98 days in 2011. For foreigners, the change was 5.57 days to 4.90 days in the same period. The latter figure has dropped slightly, largely because many visitors are venturing to equally beautiful beaches in the environs of Phuket.

    The average daily expenditure of Thais has risen from Bt2,835 in 2007 to Bt3,118 in 2011. Foreigners’ daily spend was up from Bt4,551 in 2007 to Bt5,265 in 2011.

    Thanks to the growth in visitor volume, the total revenue earnings from tourism has more than doubled from Bt94,239 million in 2007 to Bt188,822 million in 2011.


    Phuket is also playing a major role in helping iron out the seasonality factor in the pattern of annual arrivals. This is another key objective of the national economic development and tourism policy – to ensure a more evenly-distributed pattern of visitors. This is possible because the island has good year-round weather conditions. The rainy season usually consists of sporadic showers, and there are no hurricanes and typhoons.

    International passengers (flying directly into Phuket from a foreign point of origin)

    Domestic Passenger Movement at Phuket International Airport 2011-2012

    Month Y2011 Y2012



    DisEmb. DisEmb.
    JANUARY 226,862 286,298 26.20
    FEBRUARY 229,671 230,570 0.39
    MARCH 192,843 213,799 10.87
    APRIL 156,499 184,477 17.88
    MAY 128,726 144,278 12.08
    JUNE 137,804 156,267 13.40
    JULY 167,452 194,226 15.99
    AUGUST 175,821 208,619 18.65
    SEPTEMBER 141,499 165,453 16.97
    OCTOBER 178,663 209,981 17.53
    NOVEMEBR 198,881    
    DECEMBER 246,992    
    Total 2,181,663 1,993,968  

    Source: Air Transport Information Division, AOT.

    The peak travel month is December when there are a number of Thai long weekend holidays, and the Christmas/New Year travel. In December 2011, total number of disembarked international passengers was 246,992. The lowest month is May 2011, which saw 128,726 visitors. At the time of writing, the latest figures for May 2012 showed a rise to 144,278 disembarked passengers. Another low season month for international arrivals is June, but here too, the figures showed an increase from 137,804 passengers in June 2011 to 156,267 passengers in June 2012.

    Domestic passengers

    The domestic figures may be slightly skewed because they would include both local residents of Thailand as well as visitors from abroad who break journey for a few days in Bangkok and then take a domestic flight to Phuket. The latter category would be a very small percentage, however.

    Interestingly, in 2011, the top month in terms of domestic passengers was January with 193,159 arrivals. The lowest month was May, similar to the international arrivals, with 135,544 passengers. In 2012, these figures had also risen substantially, to 205,985 in January and 158,224 in May.

    The figures for November and December 2012 had not been published at the time of writing.

    Domestic Passenger Movement at Phuket International Airport 2011-2012

    Month Y2011 Y2012



    DisEmb. DisEmb.
    JANUARY 193,159 205,985 6.64
    FEBRUARY 183,658 192,781 4.97
    MARCH 177,944 196,233 10.28
    APRIL 176,405 189,164 7.23
    MAY 135,544 158,224 16.73
    JUNE 141,797 160,904 13.47
    JULY 180,356 185,134 2.65
    AUGUST 177,668 202,620 14.04
    SEPTEMBER 157,683 156,834 -0.54
    OCTOBER 176,391 191,649 8.65
    NOVEMEBR 155,990    
    DECEMBER 190,375    
    Total 2,046,970 1,839,528  

    Source: Air Transport Information Division, AOT.

    Top Airlines

    Thai Airways, the national airline, leads the list with total of 1,959,691 passengers carried into Phuket in 2011, up 7.91% over 2010. The list of top airlines clearly reflects the importance of low-cost airlines such as Thai Air Asia, which has risen to No. 2 status with total of 1,397,616 passengers in 2011, up 8.79% over 2010. The airline’s mother company, Air Asia, is No. 4. Bangkok Airways, a privately-owned airline, ranked third with total of 697,223 passengers in 2011, up 13.97% over 2010.

    Although flights from regional points such as Singapore are growing, the advent of the liberalized ASEAN aviation agreement will generate even more flights from other regional points such as Jakarta.

    Total Passengers at Phuket International Airport (Embarked and Disembarked) by Airlines 2011-2010


    2010 Pax

    (Disemb. + Emb.)

    2011 Pax

    (Disemb. + Emb.)

    % Change
    Thai Airways International (THA) 1,816,036 1,959,691 7.91
    Thai Air Asia (AIQ) 1,284,669 1,397,616 8.79
    Bangkok Airways (BKP) 611,750 697,223 13.97
    Air Asia (AXM) 282,029 334,797 18.71
    Silk Air (SLK) 292,803 328,776 12.29
    Nok Air (NOK) 189,135 271,645 43.62
    Orient Thai Airlines (OEA) 214,028 262,311 22.56
    Transaero Airlines (TSO) 195,438 252,019 28.95
    Tiger Airways (TGW) 173,879 213,045 22.52
    Nordwind Airlines (NWS) 64,526 213,501 230.88
    Korean Airlines (KAL) 173,614 202,248 16.49
    Jetstar Asia (JSA) 175,545 189,067 7.70
    Others 1,537,342 2,108,691 37.16
    Grand Total 7,010,794 8,430,630 20.25

    Source: Airports of Thailand

    Number of Accommodations and Rooms in Phuket 2011-2012

    Along with airlines adding more flights, the volume of accommodation facilities has grown commensurately, reaching 53,226 rooms in 2012, up 7.4% over 2011. Hotels and resorts comprise the vast majority of rooms, up respectively 9.4% and 6.3% over 2011. Guesthouses and bungalows are at the lower end, and growing by smaller rates. More accommodation units are coming up, catering to all budget categories.


    The growth potential for the entire island is significant. Phuket airport is undergoing a major upgrade to renovate the existing passenger terminal, add four more contact gates, expand the parking apron and improve related facilities, at a total investment cost of Bt5.79 billion.

    By 2015, this will boost the airport’s handling capacity to six million annual passengers. More flights will follow, and so will more tourists.