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Spurred by Discounts, Thais Flock to Resort Islands for Holiday Weekend

Tourists wait to board the Koh Chang ferry on Saturday
Tourists wait to board the Koh Chang ferry on Saturday

Spurred by big discounts, Thai tourists flocked to beaches and islands on the first holiday weekend under the government’s tourism-subsidy program, with hotels throughout the East reporting occupancy levels of more than 80 percent.

Photos of big crowds, industry statistics and direct reports of tourism-industry officials fly in the face of online skeptics claiming Phuket, Koh Chang and Koh Samet are “ghost towns”. Domestic tourism looks different than foreigner-driven tourism but hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions will take it.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand said hotels in coastal provinces in the East and South reported 80-90 percent occupancy for the four-day weekend. Many resorts, of course, have not reopened or are running with limited rooms available.

Piers across the East buzzed with activity as Thais and scattered expats queued for ferries resort island.

About 250 travelers waited for the first ferries of the day to Koh Kood. Three additional boats were brought in Saturday afternoon to handle the crowds.

At the Koh Chang ferry pier, more than 1,000 cars cars waited to board the boat to Koh Chang resulting in traffic jams stretching mor than 600 meters.

Koh Samet saw about 1,600 people arrive on Saturday. At Nuanthip Pier in Rayong, tourists stood in the rain to buy tickets early. All ferry passengers had their temperatures checked and boats were limited to maintain social distancing.

Sarinthp Tubmongkol, president of the Koh Samet Tourism Association, 1,600 people checked in using the government’s Thai Chana contact-tracing application.

The number of visitors was lower than hoped, she said, noting usually about 2,700 people would come to the national park on holidays.

In Pattaya, the beaches and markets buzzed with Thai visitors. Large hotels with beach views touted occupancy rates of 80-90 percent with beaches filled with people relaxing or swimming. Family groups sat on mats feasting on fresh grilled seafood.

Across the bay on Koh Larn, ferries deposited large groups of people there to enjoy the beach and engage in water sports.

In Phuket, TAT’s regional director said she expects more than 6,000 Thais to visit the island this weekend. That won’t help farang-centric Patong, which remains quiet, but should inject 30 million baht into the local economy.

The travel boomlet is being fueled by discounts of up to 40 percent under the government’s “We Travel Together” program, which allows hotels to cut rates while reaping the same revenue as the government is paying the difference. A similar program with several billion baht more is offering free weekend trips to the country’s healthcare workers.