Changing people’s perceptions of Phuket

The world is becoming smaller and today’s travellers have easy access to a myriad of destinations that each have their own unique charm and appeal offering new and exciting experiences. For those who are fortunate to have spent time in Phuket can appreciate what makes the island so special, but is this message getting out to the masses?

Phuket experienced the emergence of tourism after the first backpackers set foot on the island and discovered its beautiful beaches in the 1970s. And over the past 30 years the island has developed the amenities and infrastructure to become one of the leading holiday hotspots in Asia, which currently welcomes up to 35,000 visitors through its international airport on a daily basis.

This success generates significant tourism bucks for Thailand, but with so many tropical locations around the world to choose from plus the emergence of neighbouring countries like Myanmar, can Phuket rely on its sun, sea and sand to sustain long term appeal? This is the type of question being asked at the Brand Phuket events, an initiative by Phuket PR Network that could change how people perceive Phuket.

There are many sides to Phuket that are not widely known to the outside world such as the million dollar oceanfront villas that hideaway the rich and famous, the stylish marinas and thriving yacht scene that cruise around the magical waters of the Andaman Sea. The rich cultural history of the island and its diverse people is all there to be discovered on a trip to the Old Town and the lure of the delicious cuisine and gracious locals are perhaps what make the island really stand out.

All these factors and more make Phuket the cosmopolitan island that it is today, but in reality these are not the messages that reach abroad. Phuket is often blighted by negative events and images in the news, and according to Phuket PR Network not enough is being done to counterbalance the bad news with good, which is in part why the Brand Phuket campaign began.

Phuket Spirit caught up with one of the founders of the Phuket PR Network, Natasha Eldred to find out more about this marketing initiative that has caught the attention of the private sector across the island. With a background of working in PR in London, Australia and New Zealand, Natasha arrived in Phuket in 2006 and has since worked closely with marketing departments from a number of hotels on the island.

“The Brand Phuket concept was born out of frustration of people complaining that the island lacks presence in the international media, that there is no clear message other than sun, sea and sand,” said Natasha.

 “I am a marketer and I want Phuket to have a brand. Through my work I am in contact with international journalists from the UK and Australia who share their perceptions, which are wrong,” continued Natasha.

“We should be showing them the best we have such as the great sports facilities and events, exquisite countryside for cycling, clear waters for swimming, marathons, triathlons and regattas, to show that this is not just a place for hedonism but a place to come to enjoy life and the fresh air.”

Brand Phuket is currently in its research phase which consists of a series of events covering sports tourism, culture and heritage, Patong, real estate and the marine industry with the aim of exploring the essence of the Phuket experience. The events are open to everyone and have so far been attended by hoteliers, property companies, marketers, schools, hospitals and more.

The events call upon experts in each field to give presentations after which the key marketing messages will be distilled. Speakers at the sports tourism event included Debbie Dionysius from Laguna Resorts who organises the annual marathon, triathlon and Ironman 70.3 events. Nick Seaver from Thanyapura highlighted the diversity of his elite sports centre and Duncan Worthington discussed the success of the prestigious King’s Cup Regatta, which are all factors that make Phuket a great sports destination.

The colourful culture and heritage event held in collaboration with AMCHAM was presented by Dr Yongtanit Pinomsathean who gave an historical background to the Peranakan culture and architecture that exists in Phuket Town and included a show of traditional costumes.

Natasha aims to have all the events completed this year which is when her work will really begin, as she explains: “I will then start work on the brand, collate the research and analysis and come up with a positioning statement / tagline that encompasses Brand Phuket and make recommendations for the next steps.”

The outcome of Brand Phuket is yet unknown, but Natasha explains how she sees the future of this ambitious project: “My vision is that we will have a whole destination marketing campaign funded by the private sector. Brand Phuket will have its own look and feel with a logo, online, television and print adverts that will be marketed both worldwide and nationally.”

This may sound a great way for the private sector to market Phuket and make a good return while they are at it, but how will visitors to the island actually benefit from this campaign?

Natasha explains that everyone needs to get involved to really make a difference: “We can do the campaign communications to get the message out to the public, but all the companies involved need to have an internal brand drive to really instil a sense of pride in Phuket. We want everyone in Phuket to be proud of their island, their home, and to display that pride and share it with visitors to the island.”