Tin mining was a major source of income for the island since the 16th century until the early 1980s.Today tourism and related sectors is the main source of revenue for Phuket and brings in almost 3 billion US dollars in 2008. More than five million tourists are expected to visit Phuket annually. Phuket has the second highest per capita income in Thailand – behind Bangkok.
Early days – Tin Mining
Chinese businessmen and Chinese workers were employed in the mines. Most were Hakka Chinese and their influence on Phuket culture and cuisine can still be felt today. The Australian Captain Edward Miles brought the first tin dredge to Phuket in 1907 and changed the landscape and economy of Phuket forever. Since the 1980’s, tin mining has been banned in most parts of Phuket.
This coincided with a drastic price collapse of global tin prices in the mid 1980s when the prices on the world market fell by half over a very short period.
Many of the old tin mine have been developed into golf courses (Phuket Country Club), resorts (Laguna) and real estate villages with scenic views.
While once all-importance tin mining has ceased, tourism is by no means the island’s only activity. Agriculture remains important to a large number of people, and covers by far the most part of the island.
Principal crops are rubber, coconuts, cashew nuts, and pineapples. The first rubber trees were introduced to Phuket in 1901. Today Thailand is the largest exporter of natural rubber in the world.
Shrimp farming can be seen along the east coasts. Pearl farming is also important. Phuket’s fishing port is at all time filled, and processing of marine products, mainly fish, makes a significant contribution to the economy.
With so many healthy industries supplying income, construction has become a major factor in employment. This range from massive public works projects, large office buildings and hotels, and housing estates with hundreds of units, down to single family homes, apartments and additions.
Since the early 1980’s the tourism business has been Phuket’s chief source of income. The tourism industry was off to a slow start in the mid 1960s when Sarasin Bridge first connected Phuket to the mainland. A few backbackers made their way to Phuket and words quickly spread around the world of the spectacular beaches on the west coast.
10 years later, in 1976, Phuket International Airport was officially opened. Some of the wealthy families in Phuket decided to open simple accommodation – often bungalows. Today everything has changes – what was 100 baht (4 US dollars) a night bungalows is today five star hotels charging 400 dollars a night.
Phuket is expected to receive more than five million visitors from more than 180 countries this year.
Hotels, restaurants, tour companies, and souvenir shops are much in evidence on the west coast. Tourism creates annual revenues of approximately 90 billion baht (2.75 billion USD).
Phuket’s economy rests on two pillars: plantations (making Thailand the biggest producer of rubber in the world) and and tourism with its related businesses.