Khao Lak finds favour with Thai tourists in a pandemic

While the country’s doors remain firmly shut to international tourists, Thailand’s domestic travel wanderlust has turned Khao Lak into an Instagram hero.

According to research by C9 Hotelworks’ new Khao Lak Hotel Market Update, in the first two months of this year, occupancies in the resort destination soared above 80 per cent.

Surfing, culture, and Michelin-mania driving new faces to Phang Nga’s Gold Coast, says new tourism report; Nang Thong Beach in Khao Lak, Thailand pictured

With the Covid-19 lockdowns, occupancy plunged in April and May. But as domestic travel re-started mid-year on the back of the government-initiated We Travel Together incentive, the destination has slowly but surely gained traction from both fly and drive-in Thai markets.

Khao Lak’s surf scene has become a national social media sensation, with Pakarang Beach and Memories Beach Bar the epicentre of a photo tourism movement – bolstered further by Instagram favourite hotels, Michelin-starred Southern-Thai restaurants, and the rediscovery of Takua Pa Old Town.

Over the past five years, the expansive white sand oceanfront strip of destination hotels in Khao Lak has continued a march North towards Takua Pa. Fuelling much of this development is larger greenfield land parcels and a nearly completed four-lane highway expansion from the gateway airport in Phuket.

C9’s report indicates a hotel supply of 114 registered tourism establishments with 9,542 rooms and a further 2,283 keys in the pipeline. With 73 per cent of incoming supply being chain operated, the influx of global brands includes Pullman, Marriott, Sheraton, AVANI, and Holiday Inn.

Despite Thailand’s tourism downturn, some hotel owners are taking the opportunity to complete projects and launch their properties in the marketplace, signalling long-term optimism in the destination’s tourism potential.

Meanwhile, project delays in a number of properties in the pipeline due to the present situation is pushing out many openings to 2022-2023.

Talking about the evolving geographic changes in Khao Lak’s hotel scene, Bill Barnett, managing director of C9 Hotelworks, pointed out that “while the panoramic pristine seaboard continues to stretch upwards into an emerging tourism Gold Coast, there is an increasing grassroots ‘sense of place’ movement afoot.”

Looking beyond the end of surf season which runs from just after the Songkran holiday period through November, local hotels are pinning hopes that the government domestic travel incentive which is due to expire at the end of January will be extended to at least mid-2021 or until international tourists are allowed to revisit the country.

“The continued influx of social media bloggers and influencers heading South is already creating a ripple effect in demand, most notably with the Similan and Surin islands as day trips from Khao Lak. It may not be a typical high-season but for now, the domestic tourists are a welcome sight for stressed hoteliers and tourism businesses,” said Barnett.

He added: “Looking ahead, the current northwards expansion of Khao Lak’s strip of destination beach resorts is expected to usher in a new cycle of market maturity.

“As post-Covid-19 travel commences, Khao Lak and Phang Nga are well positioned as a destination, given a unique sense of space, nature and emergence of sports and cultural tourism elements.”

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