PHUKET (eTN) – Southern Thailand’s gem, the island of Phuket, looks further to diversify its product to attract a wider range of travelers. Many visitors to the island know exclusively the “brash” side of Phuket at Patong, the island’s entertainment center. However, miles away from this center of endless fun activities, there is another Phuket of discerning luxury. This is rather that aspect that the Tourism Authority of Thailand wants now to promote. With a clear target: to turn Phuket as Thailand’s trendiest destination for wedding groups.
Phuket is already the second largest resort in the Kingdom in terms of international tourists (2.43 million in 2008) and for the total number of rooms in commercial accommodation (37,800 units in 2008). The international airport offers over 6 million seats in air capacity, including 2.5 million on international flights.
“International air access to Phuket has improved tremendously since 2008. We have seen an increasing number of flights to Singapore but also to Tokyo. We have also new destinations being now linked to Phuket such as Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, and from October, Qatar Airways. We even get now regular charters from Iran with over 30 flights during the high season,” explained a representative from the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) office in the Southern Province.
With the further development of luxury properties, such as the Westin Siray Bay (it opened officially in early August), the Impiana Private Villas Kata Noi (officially opened at the end of July), and the Renaissance Phuket Resort and Spa (opened in May), Phuket looks effectively as an ideal venue for a wedding, which can be high-profile or just simply romantic. These luxury hotels pool together their resources with another 15 properties on the island to lure wedding and honeymoon groups. TAT has published two books to help wedding planners: memorable weddings in Thailand and Thailand Pool Villas – a favorite for honeymoon couples – are precious guides to plan a wedding.
“We see tremendous potential for wedding[s] today. Although we still get western wedding demand, we increasingly look at welcoming Indian and Chinese,” said Robert J. Lohrmann, vice president and sales manager of the JW Marriott Phuket.
Indian travelers are increasingly discovering Phuket as a wedding destination thanks to its relative proximity to India and its cheaper prices to organize a wedding. “These Indian weddings obey to extremely strict rules and customs with very specific needs. It takes on average six to eight months to plan and can cost up to THB 100 million (US$3.2 million) but it brings big business to us,” added Mr. Lohrmann. Japanese and Korean markets, however, look more into honeymoon travel rather than wedding celebrations. “Japanese continue to favor a traditional wedding ceremony in Japan,” said TAT.
“The southern island could become even more attractive to Indian tourists if direct flights were established. However, they are no such plans for the time being according to TAT. Other countries with strong potential for wedding tourism are Russia and Australia, while the demand gets softer from Western Europe due to the world recession in 2009. For honeymooners and wedding groups, Phuket is the perfect getaway as we have all kinds of products: five-star resorts, boutique hotels, and private pool villas. And all of them offer pristine private beaches where it is easy to organize a ceremony or even a reception,” highlighted Kutchada Boonrawd, marketing communication manager at the Renaissance Phuket Resort & Spa.
It seems that Phuket’s efforts to attract more travelers come at the right time. The island is, in fact, profiting from the political turmoil earlier in the year in Bangkok. Many travelers seem to have now switched their travel plan from Bangkok and its surroundings (including Pattaya or Hua Hin) to southern destinations. This explains the sudden increase in interest for international airlines to propose direct flights to Phuket. This trend could have also a positive aspect for the airport. It might force the authorities to speed up the construction of a new international passengers’ terminal. The project – in planning for over a decade – has been constantly delayed over the years.