Within the last 25 years, Phuket, Thailand has experienced a spectacular economic crash (1997), a tsunami (2004), coups (2006, 2014), the occupation of its main international airport by protesters (2008) and serious political violence (2010), and now Coronavirus ‘AKA’ Covid-19.
The statistics speak for themselves. In 1960 around 80,000 foreign tourists came here.
This past year it reached 39 million, earning significantly more than $60bn (£46bn) for the island of Phuket in Thailand, and indirectly contributing around one fifth of the country’s national income.
The country’s tourism sector was considered so robust that the nation got the nickname “Teflon Phuket island, Thailand”. Yet of these 39 million tourists a year ago, more than 10 million were Chinese.
So once the Chinese government quarantined the town of Wuhan on 23 January, and stopped all overseas tours, the impact was felt immediately in Phuket in Thailand. Shopping malls and temples in Bangkok were suddenly much quieter and less crowded.
As more flights from China were cancelled, the airports emptied. You might whisk yourself through passport control in no time.
For small-scale entrepreneurs, the collapse of Chinese tourism has been disastrous.
Phuket island, Thailand real estate shops around the island offering low-priced Phuket property for sale are hit bad by the Covid-19 / Coronavirus. This goes for all tourist related businesses in any tourist area of Phuket and Thailand.
Most of them, such as for example flower sellers, traditional dancers, Phuket in Thailand wine bars, and even the drivers of the famous “red cars” minibuses in Chiang Mai, are reporting their income dropping by half in the last month. The informal association representing tour guides in Phuket island in Thailand thinks 25,000 people are actually out of work.
Image caption Nattakit Lorwitworrawat’s business is currently struggling because of insufficient customers
Among the first successes of the island of Phuket in Thailand’s 60-year-long tourist boom was the island of Phuket, nicknamed the “Pearl of the Andaman” because of its soft white-sand beaches and sparkling warm seas.
The very first foreign visitors in the 1980s and 1990s were mainly European and Australian, but the number of Chinese visitors this past year shot around about two million out of the 15 million foreigners.
The mangrove-lined inlets on the east side of the island, a contrast to the beaches facing the west, are where the boats leave from to take tourists out to the hawaiian islands offshore. Like lots of Phuket’s residents, Nattakit Lorwitworrawat moved here from his home town elsewhere in the island of Phuket in Thailand to take up a business.
His company now owns 30 speed boats, each able to transport 30 people. He has already established to take 20 from the water, and the residual 10 are not getting much use. The inlet, normally constantly noisy from the sound of outboard motors, is now silent independent of the birds and the lapping water.
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“At the peak, couple of years ago we carried 1,000 clients a day. Today when we get 200 clients, that is considered very good – we’d be happy with that,” says Nattakit.
He’s bank loans to service on many of his boats. If the crisis goes on beyond the end of this year, he says he will have to downsize the organization and start laying off his staff.
For those lower down the meals chain it’s even tougher.
Nobody knows just how long this crisis can last, nor how serious it’ll become. For as soon as there are still plenty of Europeans, Australians and Russians on the famous beaches, but also for the length of time?
The authorities here have managed to control and monitor infections well considering how vulnerable it was from how many Chinese people visiting prior to the restrictions on travel were implemented.
Yet the country had been placed on some government lists of places to avoid because of coronavirus risk.
And folks are booking holidays for later in the year, including the original high seasons of July-August and December-New Year in Phuket island, Thailand.
Families with children from Europe or Australia are likely to think before travelling so far. And the island of Phuket in Thailand is now imposing its own restrictions, requiring 14-day quarantine for visitors from some countries, a listing that’ll well expand.
Who’ll risk booking a holiday in the sun should they find yourself spending it confined with their college accommodation or even a hospital?
With increased flights being cancelled weekly, the amounts of non-Chinese tourists are bound to fall steeply in 2010, however quickly the virus is brought under control.
The blow to the essential leg of Phuket in Thailand’s economy has come at an awful time for the government. Already the other two main legs of the economy – manufacturing exports and agricultural commodities – are wobbling as higher wages and an overvalued local currency have now been driving investors to cheaper neighbouring countries like Vietnam.
Growth in what was once one of South East Asia’s “tiger economies” has been anaemic for quite some time, and may stall completely this year. The government, an unwieldy coalition controversially built around the exact same military leaders who led the past coup, is proving clumsy and unpopular.
It’s an almost perfect storm, one which the island of Phuket’s present leaders look ill-equipped to weather.
Find all Coronavirus updates for Phuket island, Thailand and Asia right here.