LOW-COST carriers Jetstar Asia and Tiger Airways are cutting back on services to Phuket and increasing the number of flights to Indonesia, Vietnam and India instead.
Jetstar, which has trouble filling its cabins and has seen better opportunities in the other markets, will stop flying to the Thai resort island from Saturday. Tiger, citing inconsistent demand, told The Straits Times that from next week, it will fly only once a day to Phuket instead of twice daily.
However, two other carriers, SilkAir and Thai AirAsia, do not plan to scale back on their flights to Phuket. SilkAir now flies there four times a day, carrying a good number of transit passengers, while Thai AirAsia has a daily flight out of Changi Airport.
Still, the capacity cut from Jetstar's exit and Tiger's downsizing means holiday-makers will likely have to pay more for their sun-sea-sand fix, especially during long weekends and school holidays, travel agents said.
Round-trip fares to the island now range between about $200 for tickets on a budget carrier and almost $1,000 on a full-service one.
Ms Jocelyn Su, the vice-president for outbound tours and marketing at CTC Holidays, said that while Phuket is popular among holiday-makers from here, demand tends to be seasonal, pegged to long weekends and holidays.
This is especially so because Phuket is predominantly a leisure stop, unlike destinations like Jakarta and Bangkok, for example, which also attract business travellers who keep the demand for seats more or less stable throughout the year.
Jetstar's chief executive officer Chong Phit Lian, asked about the carrier's future plans, explained that the airline under the Valuair brand - Valuair and Jetstar being owned and managed by Orangestar Holdings - will start flying to Medan six times a week from Sunday. Its flights to Jakarta will also be bumped up from three to four a day.
She said: 'We are seeing more and more passengers using Singapore as a hub to travel from Indonesia to beyond Singapore, to cities such as Hong Kong, Macau and Taipei, connecting from our Valuair to Jetstar Asia flights.'
Industry watchers say the dismal safety records of Indonesian carriers are also scaring many passengers into opting for other airlines when flying to and from Indonesia.
Tiger too has plans to expand its services and add new routes, a spokesman said.
From next week, it will fly 10 times a week to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, up from eight now, and daily to Chennai in India, instead of the current four times a week.
In June, it will start flights to Bangalore in India.
Asked whether the decision to cut back on Phuket flights had to do with the airline wanting to beef up its resources in Australia - where Tiger Airways Australia does fierce battle with Jetstar Australia - the Tiger spokesman said: 'No. We have enough aircraft to meet our business needs for both our Singapore and Australian operations.'