While the country’s doors remain firmly shut to international tourists, Thailand’s domestic travel wanderlust has turned Khao Lak into an Instagram hero. In the first two months of this year according to research by consulting group C9 Hotelworks’ new Khao Lak Hotel Market Update occupancies soared above 80 percent.
With the COVID-19 lockdowns occupancy plunged in April and May, but as domestic travel re-started mid-year on the back of government-initiated ‘We Travel Together ‘incentive, the destination has slowly but surely gained traction from both fly and drive-in Thai markets.
Khao Lak’s surf scene has become a national social-media sensation with Pakarang Beach and Memories Beach Bar the epicenter of a photo tourism movement – bolstered further by Instagram favorite hotels, Michelin Guide Southern-Thai restaurants, and the rediscovery of Takua Pa Old Town.
Over the past five years, the expansive white sand oceanfront strip of destination hotels in Khao Lak has continued a march North towards Takua Pa. Fueling much of this development is larger greenfield land parcels and a nearly completed four-lane highway expansion from the gateway airport in Phuket. C9’s report indicates a hotel supply of 114 registered tourism establishments with 9,542 rooms and a further 2,283 keys in the pipeline. With 73% of incoming supply being chain operated, the influx of global brands includes Pullman, Marriott, Sheraton, AVANI, and Holiday Inn.
Thai sculptor Jatuporn (Yui) Wongtong worked on Pullman Khao Lak Resort (left); Phang Nga Hotel Occupancy figures (right)
Despite Thailand’s tourism downturn, some hotel owners are taking the opportunity to complete projects and launch their properties in the marketplace. One example is Kamontip Phunratanamala, Managing Director of Khao Lak Inter Co. and co-owner of the new 253-key Pullman Khao Lak Resort which will soft-open on December 1, who says “owning a hotel is a long-term proposition, you have to take a long-term view of the destinations’ tourism potential and take the bad times with the good times.”
Talking about the evolving geographic changes in Khao Lak’s hotel scene, Bill Barnett, Managing Director of C9 Hotelworks points out “while the panoramic pristine seaboard continues to stretch upwards into an emerging tourism Gold Coast, there is an increasing grassroots ‘sense of place’ movement afoot. Take the Pullman’s commissioning of noted Thai sculptor Jatuporn (Yui) Wongtong also the co-founder of Artslonga. Her signature ‘Tree of Life”’ sculpture that is installed in the arrival area is heavily influenced by the culture of Takua Pa and speaks of nature and indigenous materials.”
Looking beyond the end of surf season which runs from just the after Songkran holiday period through November local hotels are pinning hopes that the government domestic travel incentive which is due to expire at the end of January will be extended to at least mid-2021 or until international tourists are allowed to revisit the country.
Adding to that, Bill Barnett voices “the continued influx of social media bloggers and influencers heading South is already creating a ripple effect in demand, most notably with the Similan and Surin islands as day trips from Khao Lak. It may not be a typical high-season but for now, the domestic tourists are a welcome sight for stressed hoteliers and tourism businesses.”
See video: The Buzz – Khao Lak + Phang Nga, A Virtual Travel Guide on Getting Lost in Thailand