Koh Samui opts for luring Thais as foreigners flee

Tourists jump off a boat near Koh Samui. (Photo by Karnjana Ayuwatanachai)

A decrease in foreign visitors has prompted operators in Koh Samui to turn their focus to Thai travellers, with more affordable tourism services being arranged.

The average occupancy rate of 27,000 rooms at Koh Samui, a popular destination in Surat Thani province, plunged sharply to 45% during the first six months this year, down from 65% in the same period last year, said Vorasit Pongkumpunt, president of the Tourism Association of Koh Samui.

Mr Vorasit said Chinese tourists dropped the most, due to the US-China trade spat. The strong baht is also pushing Chinese travellers towards other countries.

In Samui alone, the number of Chinese visitors fell 25-30% in the first six months, with chartered flights from Chengdu to the island down by half to just five flights a week since Aug 15.

Mr Vorasit said one way to reverse slowing tourism is to allow more scheduled flights to land in Samui, either during off-peak times or the high season.

Samui airport should permit more airlines with scheduled flights to compensate for the fall in chartered flights in order to bring more travellers, including local tourists, to the island, he said.

Nongyao Jirundorn, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand's Koh Samui office, said the TAT plans to promote the island as a preferred destination to lure more tourists from short-haul markets that provide direct flights to Samui, namely Malaysia, Singapore and China.

Last year, 6.1 million tourists visited Surat Thani province, of which 2.7 million reached Samui. Of the total, 10% were Thais. Foreign visitors were mostly from Germany, China, Eastern Europe, Australia and Britain.

In the first half of 2019, overall arrivals to Surat Thani stood at 3.05 million, up 1.7%, and generated 56 billion baht for the economy, up 5.7% from the same period last year.

Ms Nongyao said that in the first half Samui's tourism was still healthy, with arrivals around 1 million, close to last year's level despite the impact from tropical storm Pabuk early this year and global tensions.

To arrange affordable tourism services to locals, the TAT, Surat Thani province and the private sector are set to organise the Samui Festival.

Local tour operators such as hotels and ferries will offer discounts to tourists who visit Samui during the event, and Bangkok Airways will offer lower airfare between August and December 2019.

Surat Thani governor Wichuwit Jinto said the event, scheduled for Sept 14-19 this year, is expected to generate 500 million baht in tourism income.