After Shooting the film but before its release, a large grounp
of international media personnel visited Phuket. They went to the
movie sites and reported Phuket's paradisiacal features to the world.
Once the movie was released and with this positive publicity, Phuket
earned its place on the map
Khun Vichit Naranong, successful businessman and owner of the Pearl
Hotel and the Pearl Village, was one of the pioneers of tourism
in Phuket. Born and raised on the island, Khun Vichit has seen Phuket
grow from a rural province into an internationally renowned holiday
destination. The metamorphosis did not happen overnight. In fact,
for those involved in the early tourism industry, the emergence
of Phuket onto the international arena was painstakingly slow. In
a recent interview, Khun Vichit related his memories of the pioneering
days, the collective efforts of a small group of entrepreneurs,
the ups, the downs, the rewards and the costs, adding that he loved
every minute of it.
"First of all, Phuket was visited by a few Europeans but of
course it was not very well known, at least there was no big campaign."
Phuket first received international attention through the film industry
with a number of Thai films and of course, the blockbuster James
Bond movie, The man with the golden gun. "Actually I was the
one who invited them to Phuket, I had a few connections and I asked
them to come and see the location. They decided right away to shoot
the film here."
After shooting the film but before its release, a large group of
international media personnel visited Phuket. They went to the movie
sites and reported Phuket's paradisiacal features to the world.
Once the movie was released and with this positive publicity, Phuket
earned its place on the map.
Seeing potential in the tourism market some local businessmen invested
money into the initial infrastructure required to sustain a tourism
trade, such as hotels, tour operators and bus companies. It was
at this time that Khun Vichit built the Pearl Hotel. "People
were coming more and more once they knew about the island, but not
to a commercial scale." He grimaces at his frustration during
that time, "this was just the beginning, there was nothing
official from the outside, the TAT and Thai International didn't
recognize Phuket's potential. It was like having something
sparking off, but with no further effort, it all calmed down again.
What could we expect from just one international film? There was
no continued effort in trying to do marketing."
With the tourism market as a common interest, Phuket's business
people decided to team up for survival. The group believed in the
naturally appealing attributes of their island home and realized
that if they pooled their resources and embarked on an official
promotion of Phuket, they might all be rewarded for their efforts.
"We set up the Phuket Tourists' Association among the
local people and voiced an appeal to the government asking for help
in bringing Phuket into the international spotlight. We also asked
for improved infrastructure and an airport extension."
"At the time, Phuket was serviced only by domestic flights
from Bangkok on Thai Airways. There was no communication between
Thai Airways and Thai Airways International, which meant that tourists
could not book a flight from Paris or London to Phuket. Island bound
tourists could only fly to Bangkok and then hope for a seat on a
After years of continuous efforts by the Phuket Tourists'
Association, the TAT joined the cause and together they devised
a master plan for turning provincial Phuket into a profitable paradise.
"Tourist arrivals were increasing but not to the scale we would
liked to have see. We continued working and a few years later, the
TAT made a master plan for Phuket." Refreshed by their allegiance
with the tourism authority, the PTA pushed for actuation of the
scheme, only to encounter another brick wall. "We tried to
get this plan implemented but somehow the government didn't
have any budget."
Ever so determined, the entrepreneurs remained active in fighting
for their business and finally, after almost ten years, the government
acknowledged the island's potential and approved the campaign.
The airport was extended, Thai International started flying to Phuket
and the TAT launched a strong publicity campaign on the international
tourism scene. This, in conjunction with Thai International's
heavy promotion of their new route, succeeded in spreading the word
that Phuket was ready for an international onslaught.
"You could immediately tell the difference. The first flight
that linked Phuket internationally, flew the route Bangkok - Phuket
- Singapore, three days a week. By doing that, we were open to tourists
from everywhere, as Bangkok and Singapore were such large airports
receiving numerous international flights daily. Singaporean people
flooded the city. They came for James Bond Island, great food and
seafood, the souvenirs and a good value trip. Most of all they came
for good beaches as Singapore does not have that. Hotel occupancy
levels were at around 80-90% all year round. Before we used to depend
on the weekend tourists from Bangkok who came for the beach, but
very few could afford the airfare and to catch a bus down meant
that they could only stay one night."
The development of tourism in Phuket may have started slowly but
these days the business is flourishing and each season more visitors
decide to nominate Phuket as their annual holiday destination. Over
the last year Phuket has seen a 13.59% increase in the number of
hotel rooms in the 3, 4 and 5-star categories. Construction companies
seem to have an endless supply of work, but is it to the detriment
of the island's natural beauty, the very thing people seek?
Khun Vichit admitted that "of course we prefer things to remain
natural but looking at it now, without tourism everyone would be
starving. Back then everyone depended on tin mining; all jobs were
related to tin mining in some way, whether the company was independent
or not." Once the value of tin diminished, tourism filled this
role and is now responsible for as much as 80% of provincial revenue.
"Look around, wherever you go you'll see something to
do with tourism."
For the future of tourism in the Andaman region, Khun Vichit predicts
that, "it will expand like a radius, once Phuket has been very
much developed, visitors will file into the surrounding area. Places
like Khao Lak offer real privacy but of course, we need to try to
please everyone. For those who really like privacy they can go there,
for those who like to have convenience and international flavour,
yet a lot of beautiful nature, Phuket can provide."
Khun Vichit spoke about the imbalance between the development of
seaside land opposed to inland areas. "I've just been
talking to many people about the strategic planning of Phuket because
we need to have some kind of balance in development between the
beach and the city. It is a job for both tourism and other economic
parties on the island, including health care facilities, schools,
sports centres and shopping complexes. More and more foreigners
will come to live in Phuket. We already have very good medical care,
an excellent international school, all the ingredients you need
to cook international food, you don't miss anything! We will
try to avoid the pitfalls of other developed islands where over-crowding
ruins the peaceful environment."
With all this international influence, some people are concerned
for the future of Thailand's charming traditional culture.
Khun Vichit believes that the "deep-rooted culture will never
be changed. For example, how people live together; the family unit
is very strong. Religion will always be an important part of Thai
culture and of course our language, nothing can take away our language.
We all dress in Western fashion and some Thai people eat Western
food, but at the end of the day, they usually prefer Thai food and
take pleasure in seeing other people enjoying their cuisine. People
come to Thailand to see our culture so there is no reason for us
to forget it."
Khun Vichit concluded that Phuket will always be his home, no matter
where his travels lead him or how different the island becomes.
"Phuket is a truly international island that has a charm of
its own with a good combination of sea side features and the terrain
is very interesting, it is not monotonous. It is a lively place;
the nature is always alive. I feel at home in Phuket."