Phuket 'stretched to capacity' as tourism booms

Stretched to capacity ... Phuket.
Stretched to capacity ... Phuket. Photo: Reuters

Resorts face growing dilemma

Phuket is also on a roll but an expert has warned that the Thai island, devastated by the 2004 tsunami, is being stretched to capacity. A record number of visitors - 4.7 million - is forecast this year, up from last year's 4.2 million.

An increase in direct international flights, particularly from China and Russia, is helping to push up visitor numbers. As a result, Phuket's hotels have been busy, with an occupancy rate of 75 per cent, according to a report by the hospitality consulting firm C9 Hotelworks. Between now and 2015, more than 5000 new rooms are in the pipeline for Phuket, but the managing director of C9, Bill Barnett, says there are alarm bells.

"Despite an upwards trading pattern, mass tourism is the elephant in the room of every major resort destination in Asia and the island continues to face both a mounting infrastructure dilemma and lacks a clear-cut long-term tourism plan," Barnett says. "This can perhaps be best demonstrated by the delayed upgrade plans at the gateway Phuket International Airport. With the expansion plan now expected to be completed by 2015, assuming an average annual growth rate of 5 per cent, the expanded airport would hit capacity by 2017. Essentially this equates to a scenario of a new facility being dead on arrival."

Seaworld Manta.
Seaworld Manta. 

Rides on the money

Australians are going wild for California, and it's not just the favourable exchange rate, cheaper fares and more flights that are proving irresistible. In the past few months, the pulling factor of California - already strong with sun, surf, snow and Hollywood - has been boosted by a battle between the theme parks.

Disney has opened a $US200 million ($194 million) Cars ride, Universal Studios has unveiled its $US100 million Transformers ride, and Seaworld San Diego has a new $US50 million roller coaster called Manta. Last year, more than 500,000 Australians went to California, an increase of 12 per cent on 2010. That growth is expected to be repeated this year, according to Visit California, which reports Australians have become the No.1 overseas visitors to Los Angeles, where key theme parks are based. Each month, 266 non-stop flights to LA arrive from Australia. See visitcalifornia.com.

Loss-maker's iPad initiative

Despite the airline cancelling orders for 35 Boeing 787 Dreamliners and reporting a full-year net loss of $244 million, it's not all gloom for Qantas's domestic customers. The airline is upgrading 16 Boeing 767 interiors with in-flight entertainment streamed to iPads in every seat, plus new carpets, lights, curtains and leather seat covers in business. The refurbished cabins will be in the air next month.

Beeline for historic hotel

Things are abuzz at New York's Waldorf Astoria. The hotel is introducing farm-to-table produce, starting with six beehives on its rooftop in mid-Manhattan. About 300,000 bees reside in the hives, seen from some rooms. A chef's garden will be built in the same area and the hotel will eventually offer tours. The first harvest produced 43 kilograms of honey, which has been used in the hotel's honey ice-cream and wild mushroom soup.

There's a bare in there

Nude golf, a nude cruise and a nude African safari are among the holiday options for naturists, according to cheapflights.com.au. A nude golf international will be played in New Zealand's Cloudy Bay on February 16. There's also a golf course at La Jenny resort in Bordeaux, France, where you can strip off. The Bare Necessities cruise for 3000 guests leaves Fort Lauderdale on February 9, and the safari is based at Johannesburg's Harmony Nature Farm. Meanwhile, hiking holidays are on the list in Queensland from November 17-25, when Australians celebrate National Nude Week.

Send news items to smarttraveller@fairfax.com.au.

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