Phuket looks to sailing to promote high-end tourism

Phuket’s postcard-perfect beaches once welcomed masses of backpackers, but the island is rapidly turning into an upmarket holiday spot by becoming Asia’s premier sailing destination.

Phuket is already the crown jewel of Thai tourism, attracting about five million visitors this year — or one-third of all tourists to Thailand.

There are still plenty of spots for backpackers to kick up their heels, but as Phuket’s infrastructure stretches to accommodate all the holidaymakers, the island has begun billing itself as a high-end destination and developing a swath of luxury resorts.

Along with the golf resorts, diving expeditions and luxury spas, sailing is an integral part of Phuket’s strategy — highlighted at the 20th annual King’s Cup regatta in early December.

“The island has five marinas and a total of 800 berths, as well as nearly 200 specialist shops,” said Andy Dowden, founder of the Phuket International Marine Expo (Pimex), a yachting show held just before the regatta.

Dowden arrived in Phuket 20 years when he sailed in on his own boat and started a chartering company.

In that time, he said Thailand has become “the premier market for water sports in Asia, surpassing even Singapore”.

Thai authorities have actively encouraged that development, lowering taxes on imported yachts, Dowden said. As a result, Phuket now has 15 charter companies with a combined fleet of about 150 boats.

Phuket has some of the “most beautiful moorings in the world and optimal navigation conditions”, Dowden said, adding the island “has everything it needs to profit from nautical tourism”.

The ‘quality’ tourist

Sheer numbers of tourists are still important for the kingdom.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) says 2007 will be another record year for the industry, with 14,8-million foreign holidaymakers bringing 547,5-billion baht ($1,6-billion) into the country.

TAT’s head, Phornsiri Manoharn, confidently predicted 2008 would be even bigger, with an expected 15,7-million tourists set to earn the country about 600-billion baht.

In addition to bringing more tourists to Thailand, Phornsiri said the country also wanted to attract tourists who would spend more money.

“TAT will focus on the quality tourist, especially upmarket and niche markets,” she said.

Local officials in Phuket have already begun asking the government to develop tourism in other parts of the country to prevent overcrowding here.

“We have 30 000 hotel rooms in Phuket, with an average annual occupancy of 70%. That’s enough,” said Maitree Narukatpichai, director of the Hilton Arcadia in Phuket and president of the Phuket Tourist Association.

The King’s Cup, Asia’s most prestigious regatta, illustrates Phuket’s new strategy.

The event drew in 103 ships, compared with just 20 in the first regatta two decades ago, sailing in the Andaman Sea.

Each ship has about 20 people, including sailors and crew. The roughly 2 000 people who came for the regatta spent about $10-million, said Rob Kothe, editor in chief of, an Australian sailing site.

“The King’s Cup has no problem finding big sponsors, property developers or hotel groups who find potential clients on the teams and find the race an excellent way to communicate,” Kothe said.

Inaugurated in 1987 to celebrate the 60th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the annual event takes place during the first week of December and reflects the monarch’s passion for sailing.

In December 1967, King Bhumibol and his eldest daughter, Princess Ubolratana, finished equal first in the OK Dinghy Division of the Fourth South-East Asia Peninsular Games, now known as the South East Asian Games.

In recognition of the king’s prowess as a dinghy sailor, on his 60th birthday in December 1987 he was awarded the International Olympic Committee’s Insignia of the Olympic Order, the only reigning monarch to receive the honour.

Sailing has also driven the development in Phuket of several new luxury properties that include marinas in the compounds. A dormant proposal for an international convention centre in Phuket has also been revived by the minister of tourism. — AFP

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Olympics halt good for everyone

They took time, but the International Olympic Committee have finally done the responsible thing and postponed Tokyo 2020

Jordy Smith: South Africa’s surfing Olympic gold medal hope

The little-known South African surfer who’s been a world beater since the age of 14

China moves Olympic qualifiers from the coronavirus epicentre

ALL OUR CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE Boxing and women’s football qualifying for the 2020 Olympics will be moved from the...

Banning protests at the Olympics ignores the games’ history

It is the year of the Tokyo Olympics, and the International Olympic Committee was quickly out of the blocks with new guidelines regarding athlete...

The most bizarre cheats in sporting history

Doping bridge players? Cyclist gangs? Some competitors will go to any lengths to win

Sports court to rule in Semenya’s landmark testosterone case

The IAAF says the rules are essential to preserve a level playing field and ensure that all female athletes can see "a path to success."

Sekhukhune’s five-year battle for water back in court

The residents of five villages are calling for the district municipal manager to be arrested

Fees free fall, independent schools close

Parents have lost their jobs or had salaries cut; without state help the schools just can’t survive

Vaccine trial results due in December

If successful, it will then have to be manufactured and distributed

White men still rule and earn more

Women and black people occupy only a few seats at the JSE table, the latest PwC report has found

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday