KOH SAMUI begins its sealed-route reopening plan today with vaccinated travellers required to stay in hotel quarantine before a negative Covid test on the third day permits them to access designated parts of the Thai island.
Hotel consultant Bill Barnett likened the Thai travel industry’s approach to the sandbox model underway in Phuket and Koh Samui’s version of the reopening model to the classic tale of Robinson Crusoe. The hero of the novel craves to seek an island escape yet equally needs to return to the bigger world – or, in this case the reopening of Thailand travel routes and international business event visitors.
Unlike the Phuket Sandbox program for vaccinated travellers, the Samui Plus sealed-route will test the water with a hybrid approach of seven days in a hotel quarantine scenario with a negative Covid test on the third day that would allow them to leave the hotel.
In anticipation of overseas travellers flying to the idyllic island in the Gulf of Thailand, more than 60 hotels have been certified in the SHA Plus safety and health program 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.
Barnett, who is managing director of the C9 Hotelworks consultancy, said Koh Samui and Phuket “remain only small pieces of a bigger puzzle and that even Robinson Crusoe had to eventually get onto a raft and return to the larger world at hand.
“Until the entire country gets better, the sandbox remains a relatively small stage.”
Speaking about a step-by-step program for accepting overseas arrivals, Barnett said: “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.”
Barnett said “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.”
While Thailand’s tourism fortunes remain focused on islands, Barnett said it was important to note that Koh Samui and Phuket “remain only small pieces of a bigger puzzle and that even Robinson Crusoe had to eventually get onto a raft and return to the larger world at hand. Until the entire country gets better, the sandbox remains a relatively small stage.”
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.
Jesper Palmqvist, Asia Pacific director for global data group STR, said: “Since Q2 in 2020, when the crisis started, we have seen three hotel peak periods in Koh Samui where levels reached beyond the bare minimum – mid-October 2020 for the long weekend, New Year’s Eve, and most recently 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,” Palmqvist said.