Satun prepares for high season's influx

Attractions reopen after long shutdown

Foreign tourists walk on the beach at Koh Lipe in Satun. The province welcomed 1.18 million tourists during the January-to-September period. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Satun province is bracing for an influx of tourists this high season, as major beach destinations at Tarutao National Marine Park have reopened for tourists after a five-month shutdown.

Beaches in the park such as Koh Adang, Koh Rawi and other diving spots were temporarily closed from May 16 to Oct 14 for rehabilitation.

Samart Jaroenrit, president of the Tourism Association of Satun and acting president of the Tourism Council of Satun, said that during the closure, Koh Lipe, a favourite destination in Satun, remained open as usual but tourists did not flock to it because it was the low season.

"The opening of the national marine park means more tourism opportunities for operators in the province," he said.

Mr Samart predicts tourist arrivals in Koh Lipe to rise 8-10% this high season (November 2019 to April 2020) from about 400,000 tourists a year ago.

The occupancy rate for the 3,500 rooms in Koh Lipe stood at 70-80% at the beginning of the high season, up from 20% in the off-peak season.

Hoteliers can expect an occupancy rate of over 80% from quality European tourists who normally visit the island from January to March, Mr Samart said.

In addition to road and air transport from Hat Yai and Trang airports, tourists can visit Koh Lipe by ferry from Langkawi, Malaysia.

"Last high season, there were 150,000 tourists from Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia who used the Langkawi-Koh Lipe ferry, and the number of tourists who travel by ferry will increase by 3% this high season," Mr Samart said.

Panu Woramit, director of the Satun office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said the province is famous for its seasonal beach destinations that depend on the weather.

"We would like to focus more on year-round attractions on the mainland such as educational and adventure tourism in Satun Unesco Global Geopark and community-based tourism from 30 local communities to gain positive tourism momentum," he said.

Satun Unesco Global Geopark is one of 140 geoparks globally and Thailand's first, designated in April 2018.

"After being listed by Unesco, the number of visitors to the geopark rose by 200% from last year," Mr Panu said. "Some 1,000-2,000 tourists each week travel to see the ancient fossils and enjoy rafting."

Some 70% of tourists in Satun are Thais, mostly from Hat Yai in Songkhla and the three southern border provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala.

For international arrivals, Mr Panu said travellers from Malaysia are the key market, followed by Germany, Britain and Singapore.

"Some 60,000 Malaysian tourists visited Satun last year, spending around 4,000 baht per person per day," he said. "This year, the strong baht and weak ringgit present a challenge to the tourism sector, so the number of tourists from Malaysia will likely be flat from 2018."

The occupancy rate this year will stay the same as last year's at 70%, but the number will pick up to 80% during the high season from 162 hotels in Satun.

Mr Panu expects an increase of 5% this year from 1.5 million visitors the previous year, as well as another 5% rise in tourism income from about 9 billion baht last year.

During January to September this year, 1.18 million tourists visited the province, up 3% year-on-year, generating 7.32 billion baht in spending, up 6%, according to the Tourism and Sports Ministry.