Koh Samui’s Incredibly Restrictive Tourism Plan

Filed Under: Thai, Travel

Thailand (“thigh-land”) has by all accounts done an incredible job handling coronavirus. The country has recorded a total of 3,378 cases and 58 deaths, and is reporting single-digit new cases most days.

While Thailand remains closed to international visitors, the beautiful island of Koh Samui is proposing a way to welcome international tourists. However, there are so many restrictions that I almost feel like they shouldn’t even bother…

Koh Samui’s plans for international tourists

The Bangkok Post is reporting on a proposal by the President of the Tourism Association of Koh Samui, who will be meeting with Thailand’s Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) to propose a plan to restart tourism in Koh Samui.

As mentioned above, Thailand is closed to international tourists, but the hope is that Koh Samui can reopen tourism with precautions, given that it’s an island separated from the rest of the country.

The Ritz-Carlton Koh Samui

Koh Samui’s plan for restarting international tourism is extremely cautious, to the point that I think a vast majority of visitors will be deterred from visiting. With this proposal:

  • Travelers would need to arrive in Thailand on Thai Airways
  • Upon arrival at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport, passengers would have to be tested for coronavirus; there would be no immigration in Bangkok, since you’d be continuing to Koh Samui, and would clear formalities there
  • After arriving in Koh Samui you’d undergo another coronavirus test
  • Regardless of the results, you’d have to stay in your room for seven days
  • After seven days you’d be allowed to enjoy the resort you’re staying at, but wouldn’t be allowed to leave
  • Only after 14 days would you be allowed to leave your resort, and you’d need a special wristband when traveling around

The President of the Tourism Association of Koh Samui is calling on airlines to lower fares to Koh Samui to attract travelers. Given the limited service to the airport, fares tend to be high, so the hope is that these fares can be lowered to attract travelers.

Perhaps the bigger issue is that Thai Airways is currently operating virtually no international flights, so getting international travelers to Thailand isn’t easy in the first place.

Thai Airways is being asked to lower fares for visitors

The various paths to restarting tourism

We’ve seen popular tourist destinations take all kinds of different approaches to restarting tourism (or not restarting tourism, as the case may be):

  • On one end of the spectrum you have Turkey, which is welcoming just about everyone, with no testing requirement of any sort
  • Some places are opening with extreme precautions; look at Cambodia, for example, which has restrictions that would deter just about anyone from visiting
  • Then you have countries like Australia, New Zealand, and Thailand, which are keeping borders closed

Turkey has opened to visitors with few restrictions

It seems like an impossible task to decide what the right approach is towards tourism:

  • I respect places that choose to keep borders closed and make it clear they don’t yet want tourists
  • At the same time, for those places allowing visitors but only with extreme restrictions (like what Koh Samui is proposing), I wouldn’t expect that to do much to restart tourism

It can be hard to figure out what the right approach should be. For example, when Hawaii was thinking or requiring pre-travel testing (which is now being postponed), the belief was that testing before travel would prevent 80-90% of coronavirus cases.

Hawaii is postponing its tourism restart

A strategy like that would obviously still lead to an increase in coronavirus cases, but how do you balance that with people being allowed to return to their jobs? Is it worth preventing those 10-20% of cases by adding restrictions that may very well deter a vast majority of tourists from visiting?

On the other end of the spectrum you have Turkey, which has opened up with no restrictions, and hasn’t seen a spike in reported cases. How would case numbers look different if the country did do mandatory testing at the border?

I think there’s no right or wrong answer here. I do think that Koh Samui’s plan would prevent a vast majority of travelers from considering the island. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though…

Bottom line

Thailand’s borders have been closed for months. While there’s no end in sight for that, Koh Samui is hoping to once again welcome international visitors, but with lots of restrictions.

Koh Samui’s plans seem safe, in the sense that two tests and a 7-14 day quarantine should catch nearly all potential cases. At the same time, this might be so restrictive that it would deter a vast majority of visitors.

What do you make of Koh Samui’s tourism revival plan?

  1. Low testing = low cases
    If you dont want to see a spike in cases then dont increase testing like Turkey

  2. As a dual U.S. – EU citizen, I’m resigning myself to travel in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe for the next few years. Every developing country — with bureaucrats itching for something to do — is going to impose insane public health measures, which will destroy their tourism industries.

  3. I doubt that these and similar restrictive measures allow in enough tourist money to be worth the effort. They all sound like politicians doing “something” to respond to the wails of their internal tourist industry.

  4. @ Ben Dover, “Thigh-land” is how Trump pronounced Thailand last week. I am waiting for him to later mention his favorite islands, Fukit (aka Phuket) and Golden Shower (aka Phi Phi).

  5. QQ: How is the “Support Equality” campaign going?
    Just curious why you keep the vile comments in your recent Air India article up — does that support equality?

  6. Any country which has requirements beyond a temperature check will never get tourism back to normal levels.

    A whiff of quarantine rules will deter away almost everyone from visiting.

    A PCR test requirement won’t keep away everyone, but still a substantial portion (likely a majority).

    A health check form, loosely enforced mask rule and temperature check is the most safety theater tourists would tolerate. If countries don’t find this enough they are welcome to keep their tourist economy destroyed.

  7. Thailand is being overly cautious.

    .8 deaths per million …compare to…..

    523 deaths per million USA
    857 deaths per million Belgium

    Some countries despite either handling it well or not having same exposure to it as other countries will not open up unless the coronavirus is eradicated. Look at New Zealand. 7-12 new CASES and Auckland is almost locked down AND theIr election is postponed by 4 weeks.

  8. And Thai Airways isn’t presently operating any flights until at least 30 September and undergoing bankruptcy hearings.

    How many people are going to travel with all the those restrictions , including being forced to stay in your room for 7 days ??

    There’s no point

  9. The economic impact of tourism has to enter the equation at some point. Maybe an island like Bali, separated from the mainland and almost completely dependent on tourism will be the first to open to tourists. Rapid testing (e.g. the new saliva test) could factor in as well. That said, it’s nearing the point where the peak Christmas / New Year season is a write-off.

  10. This kind of strategy brings the worst of both worlds. It will increase infection rate while only having negligible economic benefits.

    The bottom line is you can either open completely, or remain closed. Nothing else makes sense, there’s no middle road.

  11. Commenters (expats) on FT saying Thai tourism as we know it (visa waiver or on arrival) won’t be back to normal until the 2nd half of 2021. Yesterday, had an email exchange with a Marriott property GM (I believe an Irish national), and he confirmed the same. His property in Bangkok is not accepting reservations until further notice as the hotel is available only to guests repatriating to Thailand under the Alternate State Quarantine program of the government.

  12. I have no idea how people in Thailand + Bali etc are surviving. This is insanity. Even if a spit test at the airport isn’t perfect you’d catch a large % of cases. You’d be at an infinitely better place than we were in March when everyone was still freely roaming the world and even _then_ the situation didn’t get out of control in Thailand. Require the same tests daily at breakfast at resorts and you’d capture even more.

    We really need to start getting innovative here or more people are going to die from starvation and the economic destruction than from the virus.

  13. Don’t know why anyone would bother with this for vacation seems like a tremendous hassle. Fly across the world to sit in a hotel room for seven days straight and pay for the privilege to do so. GTFOH.

  14. Who would do this? Someone with lots of money and time. Pay to stay at a 5 star hotel for 7 nights and never leave your room? Maybe if I won the lottery. This is a firm NO for me. I am still working FT, and am not independently wealthy. I am still paying student loans back. Two COVID tests? I don’t know who made this plan, but I imagine maybe 5% of people at best, using this.

  15. 1. Thai isn’t operating any flights at the moment, i.e. impossible to get there, not to mention the potential logistics involved in putting every foreigners on one carrier while they mix with domestic travellers on BKK-USM sector, and the monopolistic prices they can charge.
    2. Is it easier to operate point-to-point flights from Koh Samui to major cities? That way the potentially infected individuals can skip BKK altogether.
    3. Two testings in a day (BKK/USM) on arrival but no testing at all after 7/14 days seems to be a major oversight.

    Conclusion: Don’t even bother…

  16. This a dead end street proposal.samui is already close to sinking ,and this will not help.
    Get your long stayers back ,and no test .put away all this covid fear.in thailand much social life is in the open air ,or well ventilated places.no covid transmissions

  17. So they are relying on the ultra-rich with no responsibilities or limited PTO to worry about to enter voluntary house arrest on their expense to salvage their dying tourism sector.


  18. It’s a proposal by a regional Tourist Authority. But it can’t go forward without high-level government approval, which means The Generals. Thailand is governed by a military government. Since the pandemic began, their pattern has been to share their thinking by publicizing proposals, then backtracking later, before they were actually implemented. One always gets the impression that the kids made lots of plans, then a grownup entered the room.

    All of which is a long way of saying the story is interesting but it won’t happen.

  19. Nothing will happens because Thailand have weird fetish to keep it to zero cases. Thailand is another “low test, less case” situation.

    Funny how they don’t give a damn about automobile accident fatalities which kills a lot of Thais and some foreigners annually while gone insane on coronavirus measures.

  20. Sign me up! Yes, I want to spend lots of $$ to sit in my room. Also, it’s deaths that matter…not cases.

  21. Just like the Maldives, this ridiculous policy will be modified once people come to their senses. Much to do about nothing here.

  22. It only works if after 14 days, you are given 90-day entry. And why not, if you are clearly virus free? Fourteen days at a single property, then basically 14 more days to roam an overpriced island? Not gonna fly. I know Thailand is famous for scams, at least this time they advertise in advance that you’ll be getting cheated. Quarantine hotels are charging double and triple normal rates despite no housekeeping for 14 days and food that’s costing about the property about $5/day per guest. Test on arrival, if negative, open the doors for 90-180 days if tourists are willing to stay and spend. Passport origin is meaningless, just a way for airport and immigration staff to avoid some extra work. BTW, my expat friends in Bangkok said racism towards non Thais is off the charts. And even expats are opposed to opening for tourism, their playground has fewer kids.

  23. First of all, this nonsense isn’t going to happen, ever, for a long list of reasons. It’s just one local Chamber of Commerce floating an impractical idea, which will never get approval. Thailand is pretty sensitive to foreign super-spreaders already due to recent events and they’re never going to allow such a scheme. This post is just clickbait like so much of the filler here.

    Opening up to international tourism won’t happen because it’s proven to be too risky – as the owner of this blog has repeatedly demonstrated with his disgraceful own personal behavior. There are just too many self-entitled, arrogant, selfish, irresponsible idiots in the world. You open the door a crack, they sneak in, and boom, you have covid outbreaks. Observe how it’s gone everywhere.

    Ben, you’re a dishonest hypocrite.

  24. There’s a lot that’s wrong with this story. Apart from those already mentioned, Thai Airways doesn’t fly to Koh Samui at all and hasn’t since it retired its last 737. The reason fares to USM are so expensive it that Bangkok Airways owns the airport and has a monopoly on flights to it.

  25. @Dick Bupkiss No one cares about your opinion. Not happy get the Fxxx out of this blog
    Ben, please keep on flying and posting travel reviews.
    I just LOVE how this pisses off d*** Heads like Dick Bupkiss

  26. @Fred, It appears that they wish pax to arrive on TG only so they can control the flow through the odd formalities and onto the connection likely Thai Smiles or similar.

    For me. I love Thailand and Koh Samui is a favorite but I’ll wait until I can scuba dive instead of surfing CNN International my room all day for a week.

  27. This isn’t going to happen. It’s a local proposal and nobody in Thailand wants the border to open to foreigners right now. There are enough Thais who come back with Covid already, all under state quarantine. National polls have proven there is a strong majority that opposes the opening of borders. Life here in Thailand is fine, don’t worry about it.

  28. Attacking Dick Bupkiss doesn’t reduce the truth in a few things he was saying.

    In a previous blog post an American boasted how he travelled to the EU and possibly spread the virus because he had a second Irish EU passport. Nice. It doesn’t matter what the hell your passport is – it MATTERS where you are living. If you are LIVING in the US you are not welcome in the EU because of the risk you are presenting.

    In this post above @James boasts that he has two passports and will be restricting his travels in the near future to MEXICO, US and EU.

    Dear James – you are a super spreader with no concern about anyone else in the world. The only place worse than the US is MEXICO for COVID. So you plan to travel to all the worst places and take the virus with you. Just because you have TWO PASSPORTS and can SNEAK INTO ANYWHERE THAT ALLOWS them – instead of admitting you LIVE IN THE US AND SHOULD STAY HOME?

    Beat up @Dick – but really the response that you can sneak into any country you want to and spread the virus willy nilly is much more disgusting that ol dick.

  29. Dont know if ur actually trying to take a piss with your ‘Thigh land’ joke or actually trying to teach people with pronunciation.

    Both of that are ‘wrong’ and some people might not find it ‘too’ funny so next time just be a little considerate.

  30. What’s the point of “thigh-land”? It’s demeaning and petty on your part.

    @Michael F: “Thigh-land” is how Trump pronounced Thailand last week. I am waiting for him to later mention his favorite islands, Fukit (aka Phuket) and Golden Shower (aka Phi Phi).

    Not to forget waiting for Trump to mention “Bang-kok”

  31. @Angry380
    Regarding the testing in Thailand, a somewhat decent indicator of whether there is adequate testing is the positivity rate. Different sites are putting Thailand’s positivity rate at between .4 and 1.48%, which is a lot lower than most other countries, suggesting that the testing levels in Thailand may actually be adequate.

    At least one international organization has ranked Thailand’s public health preparedness as 6th in the world (though not sure what weight to give this seeing as the United States is top on that list). https://www.ghsindex.org/

  32. It could be “thigh-land”, “thigh-lind” or “Tai-land” depending where in the world you are and how it is pronounced there.. If the author had provided a reason why he used that it might given us some perspective.

    “thigh-land” could be demeaning and a stab at that female portion of the Thai population who earn their living as sex workers.

  33. Well, no tests = no cases. That for sure. You can hide positive cases number but you can’t hide critical pneumonia cases in ICU and dead number.

    The hospitals in Thailand are empty and there are no pile of corps like Covid active countries. Sure, I know this because I work in the hospital myself and there were plenty of Covid cases in the first wave. Even private hospitals here have financial hard time because there is no people. ( Otherwise, You think that we leave Covid patients dies on street is another story)

    It is very silly to just blindly believe in No test = No cases mantra. Since the death rate is fixed at 2-3% (Stat from great western countries). Sure, I don’t believe that Thailand positive cases is only 3 thousand something but it a lot better than genius western countries. That’s for sure otherwise you will see ICU shortage, crowded hospital and piles of corpses already.

    For you, want to visit Thailand or not isn’t up to you anymore. You can’t get in even you want to. I saw a lot of my clients expat families separated for almost a year since they can’t get in.

    Guess what? Since I live in Phuket for 10 years (Yey, your paradise). You think no Covid make us superior? Hell no, since 90% of Phuket economy (and 20% of Thailand economy) depend on tourism.

    Now guess what? what we got is no Covid case in Phuket and a ghost town, dead economy and bankrupt hotels (Sure beaches is super beautiful even to me as a resident since it is super quiet and no people).

    Congratulation, in near future you can get in Thailand especially to tourism hotspots like Samui or Phuket easier for sure since we close to the point that we have to choose between “willingly” accept risk of surge Covid cases or nothing to eat.

    If you can’t accept the reality that Thailand have very few cases than you Covid bombard genius country. It is your problems. The reality is no Covid and bankrupt, we dead any way.

    I struck my nerve every time when I see stupid comments from stupid people who just look at the numbers and can’t accept reality.

    My english is bad? Sure English isn’t my primary language. Who cares?

  34. I have more than a few associates from South East Asia that pronounce it as Thigh-land. They also tend to say Phuket with an f sound for the ph. It’s not unusual.

  35. “On the other end of the spectrum you have Turkey, which has opened up with no restrictions, and hasn’t seen a spike in reported cases. How would case numbers look different if the country did do mandatory testing at the border?”

    This is because Turkey still has fairly high case totals. There is no question if we loosened border restrictions in countries with virtually no new cases, we would see a spike. Thailand. New Zealand. Singapore.

  36. ‘Thigh tourism’ sounds like something Donald Trump is into, probably in the seedier parts of the US though, rather than tie-land. Hence his incorrect pronunciation of the country he knows nothing about.
    @Ksa63~ the “more than a few associates from SouthEast Asia”, (probably no Thais) are wrong too.

  37. Love the fact my comment got deleted — even though all I did was satirically quoting Apirat, the Thai Commander in Chief. All the quotes were from his staff or himself. Shame on you, Lucky

  38. I agree with Ben this is a surrealistic plan.

    Anyway I thank Thailand for shutting down. This led to us cancelling our annual trip there this month (still waiting for LH to reimburse us). Instead we travelled around Europe for 3 weeks, Germany, Austria and Italy. Spending on average 1000-1500 EUR per day which is what we would spend in Thailand as well (FC flights, a bit cheaper hotels but not by much) In Koh Samui we stayed at Santiburi, in BKK at Peninsula etc. Well guess what we discovered that with this budget you can get almost 95% of the service level we got in TH. Fantastic stays in Baden Baden, Innsbruck, Lago di Garda and Venice. Sure if you want to spend a fraction of this amount TH is still a better deal but for affluent travellers this is not going to work anymore. We have been going to Asia and TH in particular since 1999 and have seen little improvements. Koh Samui infrastructure? let me smile…
    I am still sad about this situation, we have friends in TH both locals & expats, the ones who are invested in tourism are completely depressed.
    PS just flashed on my screen: Koh Samui hotels as alternative to quarantine hotels in BKK, great business idea 😉

  39. OMG, I am supposed to go to Ko Samui in December for yoga retreat, I got tctk with Qatar Airways (Thai Airlines donrtfly from Prague anyway) and with these restrictions it doesn’t make any sense to me. I was hoping there will be only mandatory quarantine within the resort, but these 7 days in the room makes no sense to me

  40. We’ve seen major xenophobia from the Thai govt, mostly from the puffed-up Generals running the show. From blaming foreigners for the disease ( as they’ve done with every outbreak, including HIV/AIDS, SARS, Bird Flu, MERS) , to asking people to avoid them ( “they’re dirty” said the Health Minister) , to banning foreigner participation in events ( eg marathon) and even visiting pubs and restaurants.
    All this despite the fact that any foreigner now in Thailand has been there at least since March, when the borders closed.
    Thailand is going to have to work hard to get its tourism numbers back on track once this epidemic subsides.

  41. Greetings from Koh Samui. I am absolutely in favor of this, even if it ever-so-slightly moves the needle. Right now the island is surprisingly not dead; There are Thai tourists on Samui which is quite a rare sight. I believe the government has been giving Thai’s incentive to travel within the Kingdom.

    The issue I see is the largest aircraft USM is “able” to accommodate is an A319, not an A320. The problem is Thai and ThaiSmile do not operate a plane that small. (The runway is purposefully marked by several feet just shy of an A320 capacity to land here). Also TG retired their subfleet of two 737-400 that only operated BKK-USM several years ago.

    I’m surprised that Bangkok Air isn’t all over this initiative with dedicated sterile charters. At the same time Samui is one of the lowest COVID-prone island on earth (for now), and people here would like to keep it that way. When the borders do open I hope everyone pays a visit here.


  42. I would not trust any numbers from Turkey. The real numbers of infections are higher than the so called official numbers. The country is desperate for money, so they just let everybody in.
    It is the choice of every country to imply what measures they feel right! If you would not follow their rules ,so stay away.
    The best for all stay in your country and stop spreading the virus.

  43. My SO and I are regular readers of your blog. She is Thai. We both found “Thigh-land” quite demeaning. Just because you are quoting someone else doesn’t give you license to repeat sexist language. Please be more considerate.

  44. Will, your “SO” sounds too sensitive for this hectic world.

    All of my friends here in Thailand, Thai and Western alike found his “Trump-up” hilarious. Please explain how “ThighLand” is at all sexist: It was an unintentional verbal faux pas. Jesus.

    P.S. I’m offended by your pretentious use of ‘significant other’. She is your girlfriend, your fiancé or your wife. There is literally nothing else.


  45. Lovely…two different tests and regardless of the results, you are under extended lockdown and then treated like a parolee while paying thousands of dollars for accomodation and a monopolized flight for the state airline. Why don’t they just add “must wear a mask and gloves even when in your own room/villa” and maybe add a few more tests at the visitor’s expense, just for fun!

  46. @JRL ไม่เป็นไร 😉
    Bothered us, didn’t bother you, nbd. Enjoy Samui, wish we were there. Cheers

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