Phuket plans to welcome the Chinese New Year this week not with lion dances and wishes of good luck, but with maritime safety drills. As it moves to rebuild tourist confidence with maritime safety drills after an increase in accidents last year.
Its aim is to help tourists feel safe, especially in the wake of the Phoenix tour boat accident in 2018, one of the worst maritime tragedies in Phuket. Many travellers, especially Chinese nationals, opted for other tourist destinations after the tour boat accident.
The number of Chinese visitors to Phuket plunged by 20% as a result which hurt the local economy, officials said.
Despite moves to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy, “there’s no agency that can fully restore confidence in maritime travel”, Wichat Trairat, deputy chairman of the Thai-Chinese Cultural and Relationship Council, told the Bangkok Post.
As a result, the council and local authorities agreed this year to renew efforts to boost tourist confidence. Above all by ramping up safety measures during Chinese New Year.
The festival will no longer be celebrated by lion dances at the Ao Chalong dock. Instead the festival will be marked with a demonstration of maritime rescue.
Restoring tourists confidence in Phuket
The Thai Maritime Enforcement Command Centre, which oversees six Andaman-rimmed provinces, plans to invite all stakeholders to a seminar to work out ways to cut maritime accidents in a more sustainable manner.
The seminar is crucial because maritime accidents result from a range of risks from; seaside activities to natural disasters and even climate change; 3rd Naval Area Command chief Vice Adm Choengchai Chomchoengphaet said.
“This is not only about tourists’ confidence but also about the country’s economy,” he said.
After the death of the 47 Chinese tourists in 2018, Phuket lost about 42 billion baht in tourism revenue. Mainly due to the drop in the number of Chinese tourists.
Phuket-based Thai-Chinese Tourism Association’s deputy chairman Triwit Aphimuk is still optimistic. Saying the Thai-Chinese maritime rescue drill will be a good start.
After all, he said, tourists want to see more substantive efforts to deal with the problems. Triwit said he expects more tourists to return to Phuket after this.
The number of tourists, mostly free independent travellers, has risen slightly by 5-10% from last year, he said.