Koh Samui is optimistic about the upcoming high season as it prepares to follow Phuket by eliminating the mandatory quarantine and opening the province to local travelers next month.
However, interest from foreign visitors may not increase as expected because Thailand is still battling COVID-19. This week, significant changes to the plan were considered as 3 islands under the Samui Plus project – Samui, Koh Tao, and Phangan showed tepid demand than Phuket Sandbox.
The regulation scheduled on October 1 requires vaccinated travelers to stay a day in any accredited SHA Plus hotel while waiting for their RT-PCR test results.
Tourists can freely wander the 3 islands without following a mandatory sealed route, which is more lenient than the current rules, which oblige them to stay in expensive hotels for 3 days and then take scheduled excursions inside Koh Samui, Koh Tao, and Phangan until day seven accompanied by tour operators.
He said that provincial officials and the private businesses had agreed to cut medical costs from 15,000 baht per person to 8,000 baht, the same as in Phuket, to accommodate visitors at a discounted price.
The pricing update implies that the minimum expenses per person will be between 20,000 and 25,000 baht, including accommodation.
“The July 15 plan doesn’t meet our desired results, a makeover of the plan of becoming a quarantine-free tourist destination with lesser restrictions to increase demand and allow tour operators to benefit from the plan.” Mr. Ratchaporn added.
As of September 7, 628 visitors have visited Samui through the Samui Plus program, while 43 and 26 tourists have joined Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.
Local authorities will submit a proposal to have a 7+7 extension program from Samui that would allow tourists to go to Phuket or other approved locations after 7 days.
Mr. Ratchaporn stated that while additional destinations are getting ready to implement their standard operating guidelines, they should take a lesson from Samui Plus and understand that any restrictions like mandatory quarantine can have a significant negative impact on the tourism market.
To proceed with reopening without quarantine, they must first provide local awareness and persuade locals to share their perspectives. This time, we can continue with the changes since tourist operators have promised health authorities and the community that more hotels would be turned into “hospitels.” In an emergency, the Sandbox area will have a minimum of 500 COVID-19 patient beds. More than 75% of locals have been vaccinated, which other provinces in Thailand cannot reach.
Mr. Ratchaporn said that the new strategy would also open the door for chartered flights from Israel and Russia to Surat Thani International Airport. Tourists will be transported by organized transport from the airport to the island’s hotels.
He said that major tour operators like Pegas Touristik are prepared to organize chartered flights with about 1,000 visitors per month starting in November, pending new rules, including air traffic authorization between Russia and Thailand.
“Surat Thani could benefit from this peak season since the domestic stimulus program will begin soon. We expect to bring back 70% of local tourists and the remaining 30% of foreign tourists. About 30-40% of hotels have reopened.” Mr. Ratchaporn added.
Apart from the 3 islands, Surat Thani is focused on adding more destinations for the sandbox program by including places like Khao Sok National Park.