Island vendors fear post-bomb slowdown
Songkran tourists stay away fearing for safety, compounding economic woes for local businesses
Business and hotel operators on island tourist hotspot Koh Samui are facing an economic slowdown in the wake of last Friday's explosion in a shopping mall parking lot, resulting in a decline in both domestic and foreign tourists, operators said.
After a difficult time last year when the island was hit by floods, operators and retailers had pinned their hopes on the Songkran holidays to boost tourism and sales. But the results have fallen far below expectations.
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Chaiyan Kongthong, 45, a clothes vendor on Koh Samui, thought the economy would bounce back from last year's recession, but the bomb blast has dragged it on, he said.
The explosion, which occurred on Friday at 10.30pm in the basement car park of Central Festival Samui, injured seven people, including a 12-year-old Italian tourist, and damaged about 10 vehicles.
This year's Songkran holiday was not as busy as past years, with a decline in Mr Chaiyan's customers, 60-70% of whom are foreigners, forcing him to close his shop on Chaweng beach during the holiday.
"If the economy and tourism turn upside down, it might take months, or even years, to recover," he said, adding he is worried the bomb will hurt tourism and affect his business.
Though the island is crowded, most of the people are migrant workers who do not have much purchasing power, he said.
The blast might drive tourists away and cause those planning a vacation on Koh Samui to instead opt for another destination where they feel safer, he added.
But Phanphon Lertamnuayporn, 63, a Bangkok native who has invested in the hospitality business on Chaweng beach for more than 30 years, said the business downturn in fact stems from a lack of infrastructure and services to cater to tourists.
The blast only exacerbates the pre-existing problem.
Limited ferry services to take tourists from the mainland to the island during the Songkran holiday is a long-standing problem, Ms Phanphon said.
"Who would want to wait in a long queue to use the service?" she said, adding that visitors from Hat Yai had sharply declined for the festival this year.
Koh Samui has also undergone significant changes in recent decades, Ms Phanphon said.
Remaining green areas are being threatened by commercial developers who want to develop the land as housing estates. Farmers find it hard to resist the prices they are being offered for the land, which seems high compared to the salaries they typically earn from harvesting coconuts.
"Natural resources can be harmed by the projects," she said.
The majority of her hotel guests felt safe during their stay on Koh Samui, she added.
Meanwhile, Yanisa Noophaiyan, an employee for a clothes outlet in Central Festival Samui where the bomb went off, is optimistic, saying tourists will return to the island as soon as the situation returns to normal.
Suphachai Somwang, 40, who works at an entertainment promotion company, said the explosion shocked the island, as it has never been a target for violence. Instead, the island is often hit by natural disasters, like floods, or accidents. He is also concerned about the explosion and its impact on business and tourism. He fears it might lead to a financial meltdown for his company.
"I would loss my job if tourists do not visit the island," said Mr Suphachai. He urged authorities to beef up security, particularly running checks at ferry piers for incoming visitors, as one way to make Koh Samui safe again.