Kata Beach Resort is a very familiar hotel for Scandinavian visitors to Phuket since back when charter tourism first came to the island, situated as it is right on Kata beach. In addition, for Finns it is the place to turn to in order to seek assistance from the Honorary Consul-General of Finland in Phuket, who is no other than Mr Pamuke Achariyachai, CEO of Kata Group.
And when they do so it is not to invite the Finnish representative for coffee or dinner, but usually because they are in some kind of trouble. Or the embassy in Bangkok or the police call regarding some Finn.
“All the positive things they don’t come to me about,” he begins to explain the assignment, over breakfast at the resort.
Few cases of trouble
“I have no authority but can only help or give good suggestions to the Finnish tourists. Usually I do that for everybody already, not only for the Finns. Most of the cases concern some fighting, problems related to alcohol, and drugs.”
But no robbery, he says.
“Now we have over 5 million tourists coming to Phuket. But when you count to the percentage and the cases that happen I think they are very few compared to most other countries.”
When dealing with the cases Honorary Consul-General finds that the tourists are sometimes very difficult to understand.
“Suppose if I have a Finn having problems with drugs and being in jail. I go there and say: ‘You have to trust me, because I am the Honorary Consul General of Finland, I can help you, so just do what I tell you to do, because I know the law better than you.’ I try my best to help but some of them just don’t trust me and don’t want to open their mind.”
In his role Pamuke has also investigated a few marriages to Thais.
“They ask me for help. And if I don’t know the spouse I have to investigate; I don’t want to lose my face should something go wrong in the future.”
But usually his assignment is not very busy, and sometimes he is not even informed when things do occur, as it is handled directly by Finland’s embassy, and even though he has told every police station on the island about his role.
The Indian Ocean tsunami was a watershed moment for the relationship between the Thai people and the Scandinavians, and also for Kata Group and Pamuke himself. It led to him becoming the Honorary Consul-General, in 2006, by accident, after he had invited many survivors and injured, including lots of Scandinavians, to come and stay for free at the group’s Phuket properties directly after the tragedy.
“Up to 400 came to stay complimentary, because at that time I think every Thai people wanted to help, including my staff and me. I’ll never forget this in my life.”
And when the consul position became vacant Finland’s ambassador to Thailand had consulted Pamuke if he would be interested.
The CEO had accepted and replied: “‘Usually business is my duty where I am in the tourist industry, and I help all the people coming to Phuket – in former times I was the President of Phuket Tourist Association etc. – so If you think I can do something for you, for your guests to Thailand, why not!’ After that they promoted me to become the Honorary Consul General,” he emphasizes the last word.
The fact that Scandinavians are a strong visitor group at his hotels, and of course including some Finns, also connects Pamuke and his business to Finland.
“And the tour operators, especially Thomas Cook which has worked with us quite a long time, know and trust us. The Finns are not too many compared to Sweden and Denmark but they are growing slowly, now being larger than Norway for us. The big one is Phuket Orchid Resort, where 60 per cent of our guests in high season are Scandinavians.”
A smaller percentage of that group will be Finns.
Personally, as the CEO of the group, Pamuke does not meet the guests much, as it is not his role but the one of his hotel managers and staff.
“But once I come to the hotel many guests recognize me because they are repeat guests.”
New hotels, new markets
Instead he is currently in the midst of opening up two new hotels within the group so he is “running around like crazy,” he says laughing, as these are to open in time for the next peak season.
Also with these, Beyond Resort in both Khao Lak and Krabi the group expects a strong collaboration with Scandinavian travel companies.
“They already have some hotels in those destinations, and when I invite them as partners they promise to help me as they know my product. And when they ask me for something I give them more than they request. So, we work for the long-term. And they also need more rooms,” says the CEO clearly satisfied with having Scandinavians as customers.
But he is also keen on new emerging markets.
“I’m studying Russian now because this will become a very big market for Phuket very soon, because they have charter the whole year, using our Phuket Orchid Resort.”
He is now seeing that Phuket enjoys all-year-round tourism.
“It’s getting stronger; usually before in the rainy season we had only Asian tourists. Now we have Australians, the Middle East, Indians, and some Russians.
“I think this is the golden year – if the new elected government can stay safely, and without more demonstrations. So I hope this coming high season will be very good.”
But other problems are lurking for the destination: infrastructure, the environment, standard and cost of living etc.
“This I worry much about because it’s booming like crazy! I think things have reached beyond the limit. I think the central government should come to seriously take care, because the local government are incapable. Phuket now is like a Klondike where people go in masses to dig the gold. So too many come and this makes it complicated and dangerous with increasing crime etc. Please announce to the new government: Come to seriously study and solve the problems in Phuket. If you are not unwise you must come to take care!”