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Koh Samui, Phangan and Tao see uptick in holiday tourists

Neill Fronde

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PHOTO: Koh Samui, Phangan, and Tao sees more flights and tourists. (Full Moon Party December 2021)

While tourism is still far below the levels of 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic, it was showing an uptick before the Omicron variant drove government officials to cancel the Test & Go scheme that avoided any significant quarantine and which brought the vast majority of tourists since launching in November. But while tourism has been tepid, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao have been experiencing a rush of tourists, with packed flights ramping up for end of the year escapes.

Bangkok Airways, which own and operate the Koh Samui Airport and are almost exclusively the only airline permitted to land there, said they were adding extra flights to keep up with the rush of holiday traveller demand. Yesterday alone 22 flights full of tourists were on the schedule to land on the resort island.

Over 2,000 travellers landed at the small, tropical Samui Airport yesterday, with Bangkok Airways reporting crowded planes all day. The flights brought a mix of foreign travellers and domestic Thai tourists, escaping to the islands for a year-end holiday.

Strict control measures have kept the islands from seeing too much Covid-19, with international arrivals required to show full vaccination documents and a negative RT-PCR test and Thai travellers required to prove vaccination and have a body temperature screening.

Koh Phangan has seen a sharp increase in traffic as well, as a muted version of their infamous Full Moon Party New Year’s Eve Countdown is approaching and beach venues prepare for the festivities. Hotel owners report rooms selling out quickly for the party, especially by Haad Rin Beach where the party occurs, though pricing is half or less of normal pre-Covid party pricing.

After successfully relaunching the Full Moon Party on December 19, with thousands spread out across the beach and the familiar booming of DJs playing dance music, local authorities are debating how long to let celebrations continue on New Year’s Eve. Local tourism operators have suggested that Haad Rin, the small town at the southern tip of the island where the party takes place, be sectioned off as a vaccinated-only travel bubble, but the proposal hasn’t gotten traction yet.

Koh Tao island, the scuba diving mecca also serviced by Koh Samui airport, has seen an uptick in arrivals as well, as scuba companies report holiday divers arriving. Mojo Divers reported that, while they were nowhere near the peak tourism figures from before the Covid-19 pandemic, they had seen an increase in customers with more dives running and more divers joining them. Others have reported an increase in police presence around the holiday, with tourists on motorbikes being stopped for helmet and license plate checks.

While tourists are gradually coming back, the Tourism Association of Koh Samui says that the suspension of Thailand Pass registration has already had a noticeable impact on the rebound. The association president said that local hotels have already lost around 5 million baht due to the stopping of Test & Go.

SOURCE: MCOT

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    Neill is a journalist from the United States with 10 years broadcasting experience and national news and magazine publications. He graduated with a degree in journalism and communications from the University of California and has been living in Thailand since 2014.

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