One of Thailand’s most idyllic and naturally blessed resort destinations, Krabi, is quietly waiting in the wings to follow Phuket into the tourism sandbox. As the Thai resort island set’s its sights on the first of July reopening to international travelers, its Andaman neighbor is aiming to plot their own distinct course in a chaotically, frenetic marketplace.Unlike the Southern Thai resort markets of Phuket, Khao Lak, and Koh Samui which are highly foreign dependent, nearly half of the tourists staying in Krabi in the pre-Covid year of 2019 were domestic. This more balanced, segmented trend according to hospitality consulting group C9 Hotelworks’ newly released Krabi Hotel Market Update was also in evidence last year, where despite the pandemic the province’s gateway airport trafficked over one million passengers.
According to STR’s Area Director of Asia Pacific Jesper Palmqvist, “Krabi capitalized the most of any Thai market during the extended long weekend over Songkran in mid-April, peaking at just over 80% occupancy on Sunday 11th April, well above that of other islands like Koh Samui and Phuket, that also saw an increase over the holidays. Amidst the gloom and doom of low domestic demand, vaccine conversations, and no international tourism – there is perhaps some solace in the fact that pent-up demand is alive and kicking for pandemic weary travelers looking for open spaces.”
Echoing the sentiment of many Krabi hotel owners and tourism operators, C9’s Managing Director Bill Barnett points out “the industry is looking back at 2019 as a gauge of looking towards the future. That year Krabi hosted over four million guests at tourism establishments. Mainland China was the largest single international source market representing 14%, followed by Europe which was highlighted by the UK, Germany, and France.”
With the Sandbox effect expected later this year, will the trend continue or shift? Seasonal trading remains high and the core legacy market of Northern European snowbirds is expected to return in late 2021 and early 2022. No area in Krabi is this more apparent than Koh Lanta where long-stay Scandinavian families even set up winter schools for their children on the island.
Edging back to the future, and a scenario where virtually all of Thailand’s destinations are likely to follow a price-led strategy, David Johnson, CEO of Delivering Asia Communications who consults with Koh Lanta’s luxury icon Pimalai Resort & Spa says “there are few other destinations in Asia that are more suited for post-Covid-19 travel trends, be it bucket listers, adventure sports enthusiasts or those wanting to reconnect with nature after the considerable urban-angst lockdowns of the past year.”