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Phuket is breaking new records for visitor arrivals as people from around the world continue to discover — and re-discover — the island's diverse attractions. Recent reports show that airport passenger traffic exceeded stated capacity by 30% in 2011, with 8.4 million passengers passing through Phuket's modest island facility. Based on this huge demand, the Thai government recently announced expansion plans with an investment of THB 5.8 billion (USD188 million) to extend and upgrade the airport through to 2015. The expansion schedule includes a new international terminal, as well as refurbishment of the existing terminal for domestic flights and a host of other upgrades to the airport infrastructure, including a new air cargo office and car park. Construction is expected to start later this year.

Ebb and Flow

Despite the planned expansion of Phuket airport, officials are concerned that with the region's phenomenal growth, even more work will be required to guarantee ease of access for visitors. According to figures from C9 Hotelworks on Phuket, PIA outperformed all the other major airports in Thailand, including Suvarnabhumi, Chiang Mai, Samui and Krabi, with a compound annual growth rate of 10% between 2007 to 2011. As a gateway airport, Phuket also takes the lion's share of arrivals to Thailand's second-tier airports, achieving 57% in 2011.

To ease the pressure further on Phuket, a speed rail link from Krabi Airport is also being considered, which would also provide better access to the increasingly popular Andaman coast destinations around Phang Nga and Ranong. Another option under consideration is a new rail link from Surat Thani to a location close to the Sarisin Bridge, which connects Phuket to mainland. This would allow for increased passenger flow between Phuket and Thailand's most popular boutique island, Koh Samui.

Internal affairs

Providing for more visitor arrivals is one thing, but with improved access to and from the island, issues such as traffic congestion are also high on the priority list for Phuket. The Highways Department is continually coming up with creative strategies to improve traffic flow in key areas, working with limited funds, so the recent approval of THB47 million budget to improve Phuket’s transport infrastructure was well received. The funds will not only be spent on road repairs and upgrades, but also on a road safety campaign for tourists and a series of speed traps around the island to reduce accident numbers.

One of the worst traffic bottlenecks on Phuket is at the brow of a steep hill that connects the island's busiest tourist area Patong with the main island bypass. The Thai cabinet therefore recently approved an ambitious new project to build a tunnel in this area and media reports say the Ministry of Transport has already assigned Expressway Authority of Thailand to start work on the tunnel design. The proposal is for a 3 km, 4-lane tunnel with a budget of around THB 6 billion, and construction is expected to take around 2 years.

Most visitors to Phuket only briefly experience the high volume of visitors and traffic to and from the island. Once they arrive at their chosen resort or private villa, the urge to travel far soon fades, other than to see the sights or head out to buy souvenirs. Though perhaps only briefly appreciated by may tourists, the government hopes the planned improvements to Phuket's transport infrastructure will make many people's holidays to Thailand's top resort destination an altogether more smooth, easy and enjoyable experience.


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