11 July 2024

Following in the footsteps of tropical paradise Phuket, three more islands start welcoming fully vaccinated foreign tourists with relaxed quarantine rules from today (July 15). Surat Thani’s Koh Samui, Koh Pha-ngan and Koh Tao have been cleared to go ahead under the Samui Plus model after the Phuket Sandbox scheme successfully trialled quarantine-free tourism in Thailand.

Since its launch on July 1, the Phuket Sandbox has attracted close to 4,000 foreign tourists. A few have tested positive over the past two weeks, but not enough to put the scheme in danger.

Samui Plus, however, is slightly different from the Phuket Sandbox.

What is the Samui model?

While the Phuket scheme offers fully inoculated tourists complete exemption from quarantine, Samui Plus imposes a short but flexible self-isolation period.

Instead of having to quarantine for 14 days, tourists from low- or medium-risk countries who test negative upon arrival on Samui are allowed to travel on the island along sealed routes from the fourth day of their holiday. They even have the option of boarding a yacht to explore the pristine 42-island archipelago of Ang Thong National Park.

From the eighth day, if they test negative again, they can roam around Koh Samui freely or travel on to Koh Pha-ngan and Koh Tao.

Samui Plus is only open to foreign tourists who arrive by air. To serve them, Bangkok Airways is operating three flights per day from Suvarnabhumi Airport to Samui.

Prospects shaken by COVID surge

Koh Samui has long been a popular international destination, attracting a constant flow of local and foreign tourists. In 2019 before the pandemic, the island’s tourism sector generated Bt30 billion. Prior to the arrival of COVID-19, Koh Samui had 671 hotels/resorts with a combined capacity of 25,000 rooms.

However, pandemic-related global travel restrictions mean that just 177 hotels with 8,629 rooms now remain open on the island.

And they are not expecting a big boost in business over the next few months.

Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor Yuthasak Supasorn said only 80 foreigners have booked flights to Samui between July and September. Even more disappointing is that just 11 will arrive on Thursday – and all will be reporters assigned to check out how the scheme is working.

Thai banks offer 2-month debt moratorium for SMEs hit by semi-lockdown

Small and medium-sized businesses in areas of Thailand under semi-lockdown and control measures will be granted a debt and interest moratorium for July and August, as part of a new financial rescue package jointly worked out by the Bank of Thailand, the Thai Bankers’ Association and the Foreign Banks Association.

Ratchaporn Poonsawat, president of Koh Samui Tourism Promotion Association, said he does not expect Samui to attract many foreign tourists in the third quarter given Thailand’s soaring COVID-19 caseload.

He pointed out, however, that the island has escaped the surge of infections seen elsewhere in Thailand.

“I would, of course, like to point out that Samui has recorded only four COVID-19 cases,” he said.

Meanwhile, special measures have been taken in a bid to prevent infections over the coming months.

As they prepare to welcome international visitors back to their island, most Samui residents, like their counterparts in Phuket, have already had their COVID-19 jabs.

Ratchaporn added that local authorities would use the next few months to test the Samui Plus model before opening up to more foreign tourists.

“We hope Samui’s room occupancy rate, which ranges from 8 to 10 per cent now, will increase to 20-30 per cent in the fourth quarter,” he said.

What would trigger Samui Plus shutdown?

As they launch the Samui Plus model, authorities are also having to keep a close watch on the virus crisis unfolding on the mainland.

Daily infections in Thailand are now soaring close to 10,000 with nearly 100 deaths, as the highly transmissible Delta variant takes hold.

If Samui’s relaxed quarantine rules spark new clusters, the model will be adjusted and perhaps even cancelled in a worst-case scenario.

For instance, authorities say that if the number of infections rises above 20 or if there are more than three clusters in a two-week period, a 14-day alternative quarantine will be imposed on all visitors.

If the number of infections rises above 40 or starts spreading uncontrollably, Samui disease-control authorities will have the right to suspend or cancel the model.

By Thai PBS World’s Business Desk