Top News Koh Samui’s tourism hopes pinned on international travellers By TTG Asia / Posted on 13 July, 2021 15:16 Thailand’s island-focused international travel reopening plan is set to roll out in Koh Samui on July 15. Unlike the Phuket Sandbox programme for vaccinated travellers, the Samui Plus sealed-route will test the water with a hybrid approach of three days in a hotel quarantine scenario and then allowing visitors island-wide free access from the fourth day onwards. Koh Samui to reopen to international visitors on July 15; Ang Thong National Marine Park in Koh Samui pictured In anticipation of overseas travellers flying to the holiday island, over 60 hotels have been certified in the SHA Plus safety and health programme, according to hospitality consulting group C9 Hotelworks’ research. Gateway carrier Bangkok Airways has confirmed three domestic daily ‘sealed route’ flights from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport starting in the middle of the month. International Samui Plus visitors will be required to fly via Bangkok and transit on these designated flights. Koh Samui’s island economy is heavily dependent on tourism with over 600 registered tourism establishments and nearly 24,000 rooms. The impact of the pandemic can best be highlighted when looking at the airlift, comparing pre-pandemic 2019 and the onset and ongoing impact of Covid-19 which saw airline passenger traffic drop 64 per cent year-on-year. Speaking about the process of a gradual stepped programme for accepting overseas arrivals, C9 Hotelworks managing director Bill Barnett said that “the learnings from the first week of the Phuket Sandbox will likely follow a similar pattern. Over 2,300 international arrivals have come to the island with more than 140,000 confirmed hotel nights booked in SHA Plus hotels through August. Demand has remained strong and is now demonstrated, which bodes well for Koh Samui’s chances.” He added that “an ancillary impact of the Sandbox is the restoration of regularly scheduled direct flights between the two islands from July 16, starting with four flights a week this month and becoming daily in August. In analysing tourism, we look to the sky for answers as the logical starting point, and this increased airlift is a key driver for the tourism economy”. Moving to the outlook for the island’s lodging industry, C9 Hotelworks’ new Koh Samui Hotel Market Update points out that the likely recovery journey will be top-down, with many travellers taking advantage of competitive rates in luxury and upscale tier hotels. C9 is forecasting the short- to medium-term impact to be in rising demand at the expense of room rates as travellers tend to historically trade up in post-crisis travel. STR’s area director for Asia Pacific Jesper Palmqvist noted that since the start of the crisis in 2Q2020, there has been three hotel peak periods in Koh Samui – mid-October 2020 during the long weekend, New Year’s Eve, and the Songkran holiday where occupancies reached close to 50 per cent. “These spikes in demand came from the domestic market and once the international factor comes into play, more stability will evolve,” he said. While Thailand’s tourism fortunes remain highly focused on islands, Barnett highlighted that “it’s important to remember that Koh Samui and Phuket remain only small pieces of a bigger puzzle” and that “until the entire country gets better, the sandbox remains a relatively small stage”.