Tourism operators in Koh Samui are urging the government to speed up mass vaccination programmes to improve hopes for a tourism recovery by the third quarter.
"Even though domestic cases are not that numerous, the slow start of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout in Thailand will affect the confidence of tourists," said Ratchaporn Poolsawadee, president of the Tourism Association of Koh Samui.
As the domestic market alone cannot support the industry, a recovery depends on vaccine administration and efficacy to allow borders to reopen.
Last year Koh Samui welcomed 400,000 tourists, with the number pre-pandemic peaking in 2019 at 2.5 million, of which 17% were locals.
Mr Ratchaporn said hotels on Samui have already received full bookings in advance for September and October from long-haul markets, such as Germany and the UK, where vaccination programmes have already started.
Koh Samui has worked on health and safety measures for international travellers, including additional screening points run by officials of sub-district hospitals and provincial public health offices.
He said the association also plans to launch the Samui Journey campaign next month to introduce new tourism sites and activities apart from beaches to increase tourism expenditure and length of stay.
In addition to faster vaccination distribution, the government should offer financial support such as a debt holiday for 6-12 months and reduce water and electricity bills, said Mr Ratchaporn.
Less than 200 hotels out of a total 1,000 are still operating on the island, while the occupancy rate fell to 10% after a fresh wave of the virus spread.
Travel sentiment for holidays throughout February is stagnant, attributed to lower confidence, although the province lifted travel restrictions on Feb 1, he said.
Forward bookings gradually increased for March, but the volume is not enough to exhaust supply, said Mr Ratchaporn.
Some 5% of hoteliers have decided to sell their properties to foreign investors and most operators won't reopen unless there is enough demand from the international market, he said.
Ruengnam Chaikwang, president of the Thai Hotels Association's southern chapter for the east coast, said operators are looking forward to bringing back tourists who were vaccinated and can forgo a quarantine.
Hoteliers on the island will start to prepare their marketing campaigns for international arrivals in the third quarter, he said.
"We are more optimistic that tourists can visit the country by the third quarter," Mr Ruengnam said.
He said the country has to show readiness by securing sufficient vaccines and inoculating the population because both foreigners and locals must have immunity to ensure safety for all.